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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked for changes in 4-H Rodeo event labels. In short, it wants to eliminate any separation in boys and girls categories. This ties back to Title IX, federal policy enacted in 1972 that, in part, forwarded the attempt to create equal opportunities in athletics for the genders.

We understand the ag department's desire to be in compliance. Even so, there's no reason to change the rodeo categories.

Here's how the topic cropped up. As a U.S. Department of Agriculture program, 4-H Rodeo takes its direction from the agency, which until last year had been using a 1979 interpretation of the Title IX ruling. Now though, per the USDA, there can only be gender segregation in programs for contact sports such as wrestling, or if team selection is based on an unfair physical advantage and there's a team for each gender, said John Keimig, South Dakota State University Extension youth safety field specialist.

Even now, 4-H Rodeo provides the same number of opportunities for boys and girls in our state. There are four events for junior 4-H boys and four for girls. And there are five each for the senior division, which includes ages 14 to 18.

South Dakota 4-H Rodeo media contact Casey Cowan said that aside from having the 4-H name attached to the program and receiving some technical assistance from SDSU Extension, 4-H rodeo is independently funded.

And 4-H Rodeo leaders say they have accommodated rare requests from girls to participate in boys events and vice versa. So the spirit of Title IX is alive and well when it comes to 4-H Rodeo in South Dakota.

One of the valid reasons for an exemption to the new interpretation is that having boys and girls competing against each other would create an unfair competitive advantage.

Here's what U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., had to say about that: "Rodeo is a sport that contains diverse contests. The outcomes of these contests are heavily dependent both on the skill of the contestant and in many instances, the inherent differences between the sexes," she wrote in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in November. She asked for a review of the USDA opinion about gender-separated events.

Perdue said there will be no changes this year while a review is underway. That seems reasonable.

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Especially concerning 4-H Rodeo in South Dakota is styled after collegiate rodeo. So boys and girls participate in events as youth that, if they are good enough, they could enter in college. It seems foolish to change a system that helps kids when they get into college.

Wide-sweeping Title IX was a civil rights law passed as part of education amendments. It was needed in 1972 and is needed now to maintain fairness.

But 4-H Rodeo is already being fair. Four classes of competition divided by gender and age. The same number of events for boys and girls. A willingness to accommodate those who want to try other events.

To our knowledge, there are no concerns among the more than 1,200 4-H rodeo participants in South Dakota. So this isn't a bottom-up issue.

4-H Rodeo in South Dakota is meeting a more-than-reasonable threshold. We're just looking for a problem where there is none.

— Aberdeen American News

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