Guest column

It's time to re-evaluate Red and Blue


Editor’s note: The Herald does not normally publish anonymous columns or letters, but we are making an exception to our policy with this column. We were unable to identify its author, but we are printing it nonetheless because it is well-reasoned, well-written and, we believe, a potential springboard for dialogue. We urge the writer to contact the Rockville Centre Herald at (516) 569-4000 ext. 208, at or on the Herald’s Facebook page.

Congratulations to the members of the Red and Blue teams on another successful production. In its 96th year, the competition is still a great showcase of the participants’ incredible talents.

As we approach the event’s 100th anniversary, however, I believe that now is the time for us to reflect on whether continuing such an event in today’s day and age is still appropriate. I realize that even suggesting that we re-examine the merits of Red and Blue will provoke a deep-seated and visceral reaction among many residents of our village. Let me be clear: I am not necessarily calling for an end to Red and Blue — just that this village engage in an open and frank discussion about the event.

Red and Blue, on one hand, is a great way for the girls to display a variety of talents. It creates camaraderie, increases spirit and is steeped in longstanding tradition.

On the other hand, the event is a public school-sanctioned popularity contest. The popular girls are chosen as captains and are then given the power to hand-pick their friends for leadership positions on the teams. The competition, in the past, has become so intense that it has resulted in the ruin of decades-long friendships, vandalized property and racially charged taunts. Even parents have been known to lob vitriolic accusations at one another. As anyone with a teenage daughter knows, drama is part of life. But these disagreements go beyond typical daily disputes and permanently alter relationships for the worse.

Red and Blue also appears to be an inherently sexist institution. Boys are prevented from participating, with the exception of eight male students who are also hand-picked by the captains. (Of course, these boys tend to be the popular ones, too.) Even the selection of male-only ushers for the night reinforces the social statuses that we should be trying to prevent — not encourage — in high school. School athletic coaches choose these ushers and, once more, the selectees are always popular boys, often athletes. I am no lawyer, but I don’t understand how the district can prevent male students from participating in this event and avoid claims of gender discrimination. I do not believe that Red and Blue counts toward the district’s Title IX ratio, and are we really so naïve as to think that in 21st century America, there are no male students who would welcome the opportunity to participate?

The event reinforces not only social divisions, but economic and racial divides. Watching it last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of minority students participating. We are kidding ourselves to think that a student from limited means can as easily participate in Red and Blue as others. Yes, there is a budget that teams are supposed to stick to, but isn’t it an open secret that this never truly happens? There are serious issues Red and Blue brings up that those with means might never think about. For instance, is transportation provided to and from practices/preparations, which occur not only after school but also when participants congregate at homes late at night and on weekends? Are less-well-off students able to load up their wardrobes with both red and blue clothing for the friendship and spirit days that are mandated numerous times per week? Even the black market for tickets favors the more well-to-do. (On that point, why is there reluctance from the administration to move the event to a bigger venue?)

Another open secret is that parents have more than a helping hand in the process, which might help explain why the intensity among the adults can approach dangerous levels. Fathers build the props and mothers sew the costumes. Local proprietors even get in on the action, as dance teachers are recruited by and make promises to their students, sometimes years in advance, to help choreograph the dance numbers.

While these costumes and dance routines always amaze, they — and the event as a whole — also often reinforce gender stereotypes and objectify these young women. Even in our great country, our daughters still have a lot to overcome — from being reduced to slurs by talk show hosts to earning 77 cents on each dollar that our sons are paid — and we should discourage this type of thinking.

Additional oversight is necessary, as well. These girls do miraculous things in events such as tumbling, but safety needs to take on more importance. I wonder if there is any oversight by school employees with expertise in tumbling and qualified to approve the routines, as opposed to letting teenage girls choreograph high-flying theatrics, where a bonus is having the smallest girl so you can throw her around and put her at the top of a 10-foot-tall human pyramid.

Finally and perhaps most important, let’s not forget that this competition takes place within the confines of a school, which has the primary goal of educating our children. Yet, ask the teachers what they think of the competition. The vast majority will tell you that they do not approve — during Red and Blue, distractions increase while grades and assignment completion rates decline. The school even sanctions full days on which the girls are excused from class to practice their routines. What other activity rises to that level of importance in our school district? The school’s condoning of the event makes it seem perfectly reasonable for a girl’s singular goal in high school to be becoming a Red and Blue captain. Yes, it is unfortunate that this is the unparalleled aspiration of many girls, but what should we expect when, as parents, we often pay more attention to our daughters’ Red and Blue dance routines than their calculus exams?

Perhaps the event’s centennial, in 2016, would be the perfect time to honorably conclude the tradition. If so, the decision should be made soon, so as to give fair notice to the class of 2016 before it enters South Side this fall. And if not, the competition should be changed to be more inclusive and reflective of the values we want our children to carry with them into the future.

Apologies to all of those who I have offended in questioning the virtues of this sacred institution, but I hope that this column will encourage the residents of Rockville Centre to discuss Red and Blue on its merits. And please, let’s keep in mind that “tradition” is not a merit, as history is replete with traditions that have been unjust and existed for far too long.