Flippy skirt. Hair pulled back with a ribbon. Expression of delight. Presenting a little box full of baked goods all tied up in a neat little bow. No, this is not the description of some 1950s sitcom but rather a fairly accurate portrayal of the Paly cheer and dance team, as they run across the football field in search of some huge, hunky football player.

This system of assigning a cheerleader to a football player, also known as “football buddies,” has been institutionalized at Paly for years. Cheerleaders and dancers are paired up with anywhere from one to three boys on the football team, then are required to deliver them treats, such as home-baked goods, throughout the duration of the season. In simpler terms, girls are being pushed into a position of servitude under boys and have been quietly accepting this position for years.

I myself have been a member of the dance team for the past three years and have been observing and most recently participating in this football buddies system.

It is easy to spot the sexist and degrading side of the practice, seeing as it is a complete relapse of the kind of expectations placed on young girls throughout history.

It is important to recognize the hard work that parents, coaches and students put into this program. This effort is on top of all the other time and energy spirit squad members dedicate to practicing and performing in order to promote spirit at Paly. However, the question remains as to why all these people continue to participate in a system that puts girls in questionable positions. These girls are not really at fault; rather they have been submitted to a tradition that was instilled at Paly before they even set foot on campus.

“It has been a Paly cheer tradition for many years,” junior and varsity cheerleader Savannah Moss said. “As a team we choose to continue the tradition.”

Former Spirit Director Hilary McDaniel also participated in a similar program when she was in high school.
“I don’t know when [the football buddies system] started, but it was prior to my becoming head coach,” McDaniel said. “I graduated in 1997, so while I’m unsure how long it has been at Paly, many cheer [programs] and football [and] basketball teams have had a buddy program dating back many years.”

It is understandable why this tradition has been going on for so long. No one wants to change customs that are older than themselves. But Paly has entered the 21st century, and it is time to question those long-standing traditions rooted back in the ideas of female servitude.

Here in Palo Alto, people claim to be progressive and educated, so seeing this old-fashioned thinking still instituted at Paly does not add up. To be fair, there are some merits to the football buddy system in its basic intentions.

“The goal of the program is to provide a link between the cheerleaders and the players, so the cheer team knows who they are cheering for, and the football players know who is cheering for them,” McDaniel said.
Carolyn Santo, spirit squad parent, agrees that the system has benefits.

“I believe that when implemented clearly, it will bond the cheerleaders, dancers and football players,” Santo said.

But who is cheering on the spirit squad? The members of the football team are surely not spending their time baking cookies for their buddies. In order to create mutual support and gender equality, the arrangement needs balance in the give and take between the football team and spirit squad. But would the football players be willing to support the spirit squad members through similar gestures?

“I personally [would], but I don’t know about the rest of the football team,” junior football player Andrew Frick said.

Creating positive relationships between the football team and those who support it is an excellent idea, so long as the system is not unbalanced.

“I have never heard of girls receiving this kind of support from boys,” spirit squad parent Christy Apostolou said.

“If the system is always one-sided, then it does reinforce the idea of male entitlement and female servitude. Perhaps the boys need to figure out a way to show their appreciation.”

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2 Responses

  1. Concerned father

    I am a father of a new cheerleader and am really put off by this sexist tradition. I don’t want my daughter catering to a man due to some gender role playing. If it were mutual, I would not have any problem with this but I will not have my daughter idolizing men just because of their roles.

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  2. End Stereotyping

    1964 Paly grad here. The “tradition” started at some point after that. We just called them cheerleaders back then and some were actually male. I guess Paly was progressive even in the Ozzie & Harriet days. What happened?

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