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Smith blog: Parent complaint led to New Jersey high school policy change - now everyone makes the cheerleading squad

May 8, 2018 Updated: May 8, 2018 at 8:08 pm
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Air Force cheerleaders perform before the cadet section while waiting for a time out to end at Falcon Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. Air Force was shut out at home for the first time since November 1, 1980 according to the school.

I’m going to rant here for a second.

It’s not very often that I air my grievances in a public forum, because let’s be honest - I’ve had a pretty good year so far (ahem, Fly Eagles Fly) - so what is there to complain about?

Well, Monday morning I read a story that made steam come out of my ears.

A high school in New Jersey is making a mockery of high school sports - one in particular that already gets too much criticism in the world of athletics - Cheerleading.

According to a New York Post story published on Monday, a New Jersey mom complained to Hanover Park High School’s administration because her daughter didn’t make the cheerleading squad - so now everyone makes the team.

The school athletic director stated that the policy change was a direct result of the parent complaint. The coaches will no longer conduct tryouts or make cuts as a part of a plan to make the team “more inclusive,” according to the report.  

“When asked to do away with the new rule, officials threatened to scrap the squad altogether — telling parents and students that everyone makes the team, or nobody does,” the NY Post story stated.

Now, I don’t know the situation surrounding this squad, the school, or the parent - but one thing I do know, as someone who spends nearly every day immersed in high school sports: tryouts matter.

Working for something matters.

And for those athletes who worked hard, tried out and deserved a spot on that team, they now have nothing to show for it. Everyone gets the uniform. Whether they worked for it or not. Everyone gets the uniform, all because a parent complained.

There's a fine line between 'inclusion' and a 'cop out'.

It's demeaning. And now the daughter of that parent who forced this policy change will have to go to every practice, every game, knowing they may not actually deserve to be there.

Working in high school sports you meet a lot of parents who believe their kid is the next LeBron James. But a school changing a tryout policy because a basketball parent complained about their child not making the team sounds insane … so why cheerleading?

If this high school wants to be “more inclusive” does that mean they’re no longer going to make cuts on the football team (which went to the state semifinals two years ago) and let everyone play on Friday nights?

Answer: Absolutely not.

So why cheerleading? Because it doesn’t get the same respect as other sports. It’s still a ‘glamor’ sport in many states - and unfortunately, this no cut policy will keep it from becoming anything else.

I was a cheerleader in high school, and I fought tooth and nail with my peers to prove that it was a sport (although the cheerleading at my high school was nowhere near the talent level in Colorado Springs ... I see you St. Mary’s).

But my team also went through a ‘no cuts’ phase. It was my senior year, and I had been cheering for 10 years at that point. We had more than 20 girls on that team. We had more girls than uniforms, so half the team wore something different.

It was humiliating. I still get sick to my stomach thinking about it.

Ten years of dedicating myself to a sport (or activity, whatever side you’re on) washed away because my coach didn’t feel like hurting anyone’s feelings.

I understand high school is much different than when I was in school, but we have to stop the hand holding and the participation trophies.

High school athletes learn the importance of hard work, respect, dedication and what it is to be a family when they're on a team. But by enacting this ‘inclusion’ rule, these Hanover Park High School students no longer need to work hard to make the team. They don’t need to respect the coaches and their decision to make cuts. And their ‘cheer family’ is already in turmoil.

Tryouts matter. Working for something matters.

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