2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate?
Two high school baton twirlers, who were cut from the majorettes program at North Haven High in Connecticut, haved filed a lawsuit suing the coach, the athletic director and the high school principal, claiming the majorette coach violated their civil rights by cutting them from the team without just cause.
The mothers of the twirlers hired a lawyer to argue that, under the 14th Amendment, being a majorette is a noncompetitive activity that shouldn't exclude anyone. "We're just protecting our rights," said one of the mothers.
U.S. District Judge Alfred Covello let the principal off the hook, saying she was not properly notified of the lawsuit. The case is now proceeding against the coach and the athletic director.
The mothers say they do not want money or any other kind of compensation besides restoring the girls on the team. "Just treat them fairly," said Dolores Tata, one of the mothers involved.
But the girls have no case, argues Robert Rhodes, a Halloran & Sage attorney representing the defendants. The girls tried out and didn't make the squad because they simply weren't good enough, he says. "This lawsuit is nothing more than legal blackmail," Rhodes says.
The road from high school gym to federal courtroom is marked with all the signposts of teen-age pettiness. As a freshman, one of the girls, Rebecca Mickolyczk, says she saw the majorettes on the football field and decided to try out. "It grabbed our attention," adds the other girl involved, Stephanie Tata.
They made the team for their sophomore year. According to the girls, they had an understanding that once they made the majorette squad, they were on for good, and would not have to try out for the rest of their high school career.
When it came time for tryouts again their junior year, the coach informed the team that everyone would have to audition, including the kids already on the squad. The girls agreed, fully confident they would make the team again. But when the list was posted, they found out they were wrong.
They got cut from the squad, even though both girls say they were just as good at twirling -- if not better -- than the rest of the team.
Their mothers met with the school athletic director, who informed them that the girls were cut because of safety reasons -- the coach did not want more than 16 girls on the squad, due to the dangers of careening batons on a gym floor.
But that's not what Tata and Mickolyczk think. In their lawsuit, they say the coach cut them at the bidding of the clique of girls they didn't get along with.
"[The coach] changed the manner of selecting team members for the purpose of eliminating team members who were unpopular with their classmates or who had otherwise fallen into disfavor with the team's captain's and leaders..." the lawsuit says. "In fact, [the coach's] true motive and intent were to remove [Tata and Mickolyczk] from the team as part of a malicious and bad faith effort to injure [the girls] by removing [them] from the team."
Majorettes is not a competitive sport like basketball, Dolores Tata says, so the girls shouldn't be subjected to the same standards.
The idea that the coach cut the girls to appease others on the team has no merit, Rhodes says. The team had more girls than they could handle and had to let some go. At the tryouts, the coach kept detailed score sheets on each majorette, the lawyer says, and Tata and Mickolyczk just couldn't cut it.
"This version of events is proposed by a couple of high school kids who have to have a reason why they were cut from the team," Rhodes says. "It can't be because they're not good enough."
Dolores Tata and Kathi Mickolyczek say they simply would like to settle the case and have their daughters reinstated. But Rhodes says his clients have no interest in settling, because they don't think they did anything wrong. Besides, if they settle, Rhodes says it could open the floodgates for other lawsuits -- every time a kid gets cut from a sport, their parents might go to court.
2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate?
Lawyers, that's who.