No changes yet – South Dakota 4-H Rodeo won’t have to adjust events for now
May 8, 2018
While the USDA is still reviewing their interpretation of Title IX, South Dakota's 4-H rodeo will continue to be traditionally organized into girls' and boys' events for this season.
This discussion, as to how 4-H rodeo should categorize its events, has been ongoing for about 40 years but recently became an issue again within the last year.
The South Dakota 4-H rodeo program was established in 1971—one year before the Civil Rights Act and Title IX were passed in 1972.
Some questioned whether it was acceptable for rodeo events to be separated into boys' and girls' categories. These concerns stemmed from the USDA's 1979 interpretation of Title IX and have continued since then.
“I think the events should stay as they are now. ... The reason for it being split (is) to make it all fair. I know that if this gets changed, 4-H will lose a lot of contestants due to this outrageous idea.” Mary Risse, former South Dakota goat tying champion
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Casey Cowan, who has been involved with South Dakota 4-H rodeo as a participant, judge, and board president throughout the years, explained that during the 40-year span when a new mandate to change the structure of events came up, push back from the rodeo community usually made it go away.
The 4-H program was recently told in May of 2017 that in order to continue they would have to stop separating rodeo events into "boys'" and "girls'" by 2019 to comply with the USDA's interpretation of Title IX.
Since advising 4-H rodeo to change their events, in November of 2017 the USDA revised their 1979 interpretation of Title IX; however, South Dakota 4-H Rodeo was still under the impression that they needed to eliminate the gender labels on their events in order to continue the program.
At that same time in November of last year, South Dakota representative Kristi Noem wrote a letter to US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in support of keeping 4-H rodeo event categories as they have been for decades.
She wrote, "As a mother who has had three children participate in the program and volunteered for over 16 years, I respectfully request your department to conduct a review of its legal opinion on the issue of whether such sex-separate events violate Title IX of the Civil Rights Amendments of 1972."
On April 10, 2018, Perdue responded to Noem's November letter and explained that "The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provided advice to South Dakota organizers in May 2017, based on a 1979 legal opinion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Before 2017, USDA had its own unique version of the Title IX regulations. In 2017, however, USDA enacted a new version of its Title IX regulations that accord with the common rule developed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000."
He went on to say that the U.S. Department of Education is also reviewing some parts of its Title IX regulations and that "USDA will seek input from ED [The Department of Education] on the rodeo issue."
With all of the concern surrounding the issue, rodeo competitors will not see any changes to the events they will be competing in this year.
Some competitors believe those changes would degrade the entire program.
Mary Risse, a past South Dakota goat tying champion who now rodeos at college in Texas, also has concerns for about the kids' rodeo experience if 4-H rodeo would have to change how they classify their events.
"I think the events should stay as they are now…The reason for it being split [is] to make it all fair," she said.
Risse explained that boys in Jr. goat tying would get discouraged competing against girls because they have to make more wraps then the girls. She went on to say that in roping events girls would be less likely to participate in events like calf roping where boys would most likely dominate the top ten places.
"I know that if this gets changed, 4-H will lose a lot of contestants due to this outrageous idea," she stated.
Luke Heninger, a senior team roper, calf roper, and steer wrestler, echoed some of the issues Risse saw.
Eliminating boys and girls categories would "create a lot of disadvantages for girls in roping. It's not right in my opinion," he said.
Perdue wrote, "It would also not be appropriate for USDA to take action against the traditional structure of South Dakota's 4-H rodeos while this review is ongoing. 4-H may organize its rodeos in South Dakota as it always has."
While the USDA's interpretation of Title IX differs from that of the U.S. Department of Education, the only sport that could be altered by its interpretation is 4-H rodeo. All other 4-H events such as showing livestock, arts and craft projects, public speaking, and other events are judged with all genders competing for the same prize.
Supporters of 4-H rodeo being separated into girls and boys events believe that that traditional categories prevent unfair competitive advantages and promote equality in competition.
Shelly Cowan, secretary of the 4-H finals rodeo board, said that "A lot of intricacies in rodeo are missed by the general public…until you go to a 4-H rodeo you don't understand the competition." She went on to say that one intricacy is that girls tie animals in their events differently than boys do. The events in 4-H rodeo are also aligned with collegiate rodeo events to allow competitors to progress and experience a smooth transition into upper level competition.
Representative Noem commented, "The previous legal opinion was more about political correctness than the rodeo experience for the kids involved. After months of pressure, the USDA finally listened to those actually involved in the rodeo, hit pause, and allowed South Dakota youth rodeo to continue to operate as it has for decades. I am grateful to Secretary Perdue for hearing us out and helping me push career bureaucrats to listen to South Dakota 4-H."
4-H rodeo in South Dakota is made possible by countless volunteers and is funded through local business and family sponsorships.
South Dakota is one of only two states with a 4-H rodeo program with the other being New Mexico. New Mexico's program is less than half of the size of South Dakota's program in which 1,219 athletes competed in last season.
The USDA's Title IX interpretation has not affected New Mexico because they organize events into divisions based on age alone rather than sex. At the beginning of the discussion of 4-H rodeo regarding Title IX, it seemed that South Dakota could have been moving towards changing to a similar system of categories.
For now, the events will go on as planned while the USDA reviews it's standings on the issue.
"It [4-H rodeo] is a strong program with lots of participation and we don't want anyone to get bogged down in this." Cowan explained. "We'll continue to work on creating the next champions for our state sport."