By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 28, 2016) — If you tried out but did not make the varsity cheerleading team at Stephenville High School or the seventh or eighth grade squads at Henderson Junior High, you better check again.
But if you did make it – don’t worry, you’re safe.
Trustees concluded a called meeting Monday afternoon by voting to make changes to the 2016-17 cheer teams, eliminating teacher scores and using only the scoring of outside judges to determine who will comprise the varsity, seventh grade and eighth grade cheer clubs.
After three hours in executive session, trustees voted unanimously – with one abstaining – in favor of placing each of the top 20 participants in the high school tryout – based on judges’ scores only – on the varsity cheer squad, with others who tried out and are eligible being placed on the junior varsity squad.
At Henderson Junior High, the top 10 seventh graders and top 10 eighth graders – again, based solely on the scoring of outside judges – will be placed on squads.
Rest assured, anyone who did make the varsity, seventh or eighth grade squads based on criteria at the time of tryouts, will not be removed from the teams. The measure can only add to the teams as applicable.
Trustees Sherrie Evans and Cole Gilliam Parks each expressed their disappointment in the board again being called upon concerning needed reforms to the cheerleader selection process. Trustees sent a cheerleader-hopeful out of Bond Auditorium in tears almost a year ago, siding with the district in a level three grievance hearing after she did not make the varsity cheer team. But trustees also asked administrators to reform the process and report back to the board.
“This goes back 12 months when we sat in this room and our district’s integrity was questioned regarding the tryout process at that time,” said Parks. “My concern is after it was questioned at that time, why are we sitting here 12 months later and it hasn’t been solved yet? There were girls who got hurt, and here we are 12 months later and there are still girls getting hurt.”
Unfairly so, say many in attendance, and trustees agreed.
Trustee Scott Osman addressed the board as a parent, recusing himself from the board’s open discussion and marathon executive session that followed. He advocated that spots be made available for all who participated in the tryouts.
“We should demand that the district encourage and support every student’s passion, whether that be cheerleading, band, FFA or football. Any school conduct policy should be supported by each and every one of the district’s core values and should apply to every student,” read a prepared speech by Osman, whose wife, Heather, was one of five residents to speak earlier during the public comments portion of the meeting. “We are here today because of a capricious and fundamentally unfair and biased policy regarding how cheerleaders are evaluated and make the team that has at the very least, the appearance of impropriety or bias and at its very worst, the potential that actual bias occurred.”
At the core of the debate is teachers’ evaluations that counted as 30 percent of the tryout score, and some students, one parent reported during public comments, was not allowed to try out at all based on teacher scores. The remaining 70 percent of a potential cheerleader’s tryout score was determined by the three cheer judges not affiliated with the district in any capacity except being contracted for the cheer tryouts. Now the scoring is based 100 percent upon those judges’ scores.
One public commenter – Lacey Rabion of Stephenville – said, “I asked teachers if they knew their scores would affect wether the girls could or could not try out and every one of them said no. I don’t think it’s fair having the teachers fill this out without knowing the impact they are having.”
Evans, who was Stingerette sponsor at SHS for about 20 years, spoke passionately against the system and what she – and several others – sees as subjective, flawed scoring from teachers.
“I dealt with girls a long time, I’ve been down that road. I know there are rules and regulations, but my personal opinion is that this program is flawed and needs to be completely done away with,” said Evans concerning the cheerleading selection process. “I am not, would not, would never have a teacher determine who I am going to put on my team, because at the end of the day, when that student doesn’t take care of business, she’s going to come to me and we are going to deal with it. You set those things up in the constitution, it’s easy to do. Our cheerleaders, our band, our UIL, our Ag, across the board we should have effective constitutions in place.
“If we harm one student, then I can not put my head down and go to be at night when I know we should have changed it,” Evans concluded. “I’m sorry, but this program is wrong and we owe it to every student to stand up for them because a lot of these students don’t have anyone standing up for them.”
Evans, clearly shaken by emotion received a round of applause after the impromptu speech, with many in attendance there solely for the cheerleading discussion.
Local attorney Russell King, resident and business owner Mike Burge and local cheer and tumbling coach Amanda Mills also addressed the board, which received no opposition from administration concerning the need for change.
“This is a matter that is still unresolved and I take complete responsibility for that,” said Underwood following the speech by Scott Osman. “Our issue now as far as a board and administration is how do we fix this? That is where we are at a fundamental impasse.”
And they continued to be for three hours behind closed doors before returning to open session and voting on the measure with no further discussion. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be revisited again.
Following the meeting, some trustees said Monday’s actions resolved the cheerleading conflict for this year but that the entire process would need reviewing before future tryouts.