The Crimson Girls vowed Tuesday to defy a ban on postseason dance competitions and participate in a national collegiate contest next week in Florida.
These Kansas University students said they had raised more than $5,000 to pay for airline tickets, motel rooms and entry fees before receiving official notice in mid-December from the KU athletics department that the entire Spirit Squad -- a dozen Crimson Girls and about 20 varsity cheerleaders -- would be subjected to a one-year competition moratorium.
The Crimson Girls plan to compete at nationals Jan. 6 in Orlando as an independent student group from KU.
"I found a loophole," said Lindsey Larson, coach and captain of the Crimson Girls. "We're supporting ourselves ... as 12 individuals."
The ban has apparently created a weightier obstacle for varsity cheerleaders. These students don't appear willing to challenge the athletics department and go to nationals in April. KU won the National Cheerleading Assn.'s collegiate championships in 1990 and 1995 and finished third in 1998.
"Nothing has changed," said Ty Washington, men's varsity cheer coach.
Athletics department staff informed Spirit Squad members they faced unspecified "repercussions" if either group went to nationals without authorization.
Bob Frederick, KU athletics director, said the Orlando competition could require the Crimson Girls to miss the Jan. 9 men's basketball game between KU and Iowa State in Lawrence. He said it was inappropriate for Crimson Girls to operate independently of the athletics department.
"Our goal is to have a cohesive department, to have all our units working together to support our teams."
Frederick said the athletics department began a comprehensive review of the Spirit Squad about a year ago. Other Big 12 Conference universities were surveyed to determine how each managed cheerleading and dance units.
The objective at KU was to bring greater institutional leadership to the Spirit Squad by establishing written policies and clear objectives for squad members.
Athletics department staff decided that KU cheerleaders and dancers ought to be viewed the same as any student support group operating on behalf of the university's 530 athletes. Support units include team trainers and managers, as well as sports information and medicine interns.
"We wanted to allocate our funds so that our primary emphasis was on support of our teams and not on national competition," Frederick said.
He said concerns had arisen about national contests involving KU Crimson Girls and the cheerleaders.
Frederick said he was disturbed that one-third of the Spirit Squad's travel budget was being allocated for national competition expenditures. He said some individuals representing KU at national contests hadn't partaken in cheer or dance activities at Jayhawk games.
"In 1996, we had four nonstudents that participated in nationals," he said.
Frederick said Spirit Squad fund-raising activities had raised eyebrows over the years. Local business owners informed the athletics department that squad members told them that KU wasn't financing any out-of-town travel or participation in nationals. That wasn't accurate, Frederick said.
Questions also surfaced about organizations hosting cheerleading and dancing competitions. It troubled Frederick and others that none were officially part of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.
"It's not like the NCAA championship," he said.
KU cheerleaders and Crimson Girls remain baffled by the situation, which they say was exacerbated by limited direct communication with university officials.
"We do public relations work for KU. We're in parades. We set a good example. That's why people are so confused," said Crimson Girls dancer Sarah Thompson. "We're not asking for money. We're asking them to support us."
Larson, the Crimson Girls' coach, said the athletics department staff had seized upon an opportunity presented by longtime Spirit Squad coordinator Elaine Brady's retirement to get a tenacious grip on cheerleaders and dancers.
"They're trying to reel back in the Spirit Squad," Larson said.
She said rumors had been circulating that the Crimson Girls would be disbanded within a few years. An end to national competition for these women would be awful, she said, but elimination of the program would be heartbreaking. Three-fourths of this year's Crimson Girls enrolled at KU specifically to be part of a dance squad with a solid national reputation, she said.
"We're basically trying to fight for our survival," Larson said.
Crimson Girls dancers will be less conspicuous in Allen Fieldhouse the remainder of this basketball season. Instead of sitting next to the court with cheerleaders, athletics department staff directed Crimson Girls to remain in third-row bleacher seats unless performing during timeouts or at halftime. This decision was made, in part, because Crimson Girls were obscuring paid advertisements.
Washington, men's cheer coach, said the athletics department had spread misleading and false information about the Spirit Squad's status. He singled out Janelle Martin, associate athletics director, for criticism after reading a story about the ban in the Journal-World.
"I have no desire to attack the athletics department and call them liars," Washington said in a statement. "However, after reading the article I feel that they placed unnecessary blame on me."
Martin said in mid-December that it was assumed Washington had informed students of the competition ban months ago. Washington had been filling in as coordinator of the program following Brady's departure.
Washington and Larson said there had been discussion in the spring about skipping nationals in 1999, but nothing was official until Martin met with Spirit Squad members this month. Frederick said Spirit Squad leaders were informed of the ban in March.
"I was never told that the decision to withhold nationals was concrete," Washington said. "I was never told to inform my squad that they would not be allowed to compete."
Washington said he was frustrated by Martin's refusal to publicly discuss why the athletics department told cheerleaders and dancers to stop asking local businesses to donate money to support Spirit Squad activities.
Washington's analysis: "They felt that it `looked bad' for the athletics department. It made the athletics department look like they were not funding the cheer and dance programs properly.
"We feel this decision was not made with the interests of KU student-athletes in mind. Instead, it was made for selfish and political reasons that have no place in a university setting."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.