By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (May 19, 2015) — One-by-one, school trustees stated that Stephenville High School needs to re-address the selection criteria for its cheerleading squads.
Yet each Stephenville ISD board member stood behind the decision of high school principal Stephanie Traweek and superintendent Matt Underwood to avoid retroactively changing the guidelines for cheerleading selection to affect 2015-16 tryouts held in March.
While changes may be coming to the way the school names its cheerleaders, it’s no relief to Anna Garrison and others who have cheered since junior high but will not be on the cheerleading squad during the upcoming school year.
Anna Garrison departed Bond Auditorium in tears Monday evening, after trustees unanimously denied the level three grievance filed by her mother, Jennifer Garrison.
“We have administrators who we’ve asked to uphold a policy they had no involvement in placing. That’s a tough spot to me,” said place seven trustee Ed Dittfurth, who was elected May 9 and sworn in for his first term at the beginning of Monday’s meeting. “We have students facing the negative side of this policy when we don’t even know who is responsible for putting it in place.”
The policy in question involves the “80 rule.” To make the SHS cheer squads, girls are required to average 80 points or more (on a 1-100 scale) on judges’ scorecards. The rule applies even if that means not filling the maximum number of roster spots (24 on varsity, 12 on junior varsity and 12 on freshman) the school allows.
“The ’80 rule’ this year cheated many girls who were very good cheerleaders out of the opportunity to represent their school,” said Jennifer Garrison, who pointed out her daughter, who scored 77 at the March tryout, had cheered for Stephenville since her seventh grade year. “In most districts if there is a squad of 12, the top 12 scores fill the squad.”
Garrison said of the schools she contacted Stephenville was the only one applying the ’80-point rule.’
Traweek heard the level one grievance on March 30. She told trustees she determined that retroactively changing the rule would not be fair to other girls who topped the 80-point barrier. Traweek later clarified for board members that everyone trying out was made aware of the “80 rule” beforehand, as early as the first parents meeting at the start of Februrary.
Underwood heard the level two grievance from the Garrisons.
“There are some areas we should reconsider moving forward, but as you have seen tonight (many students were recognized multiple times in proclamations for accomplishments earned through various extracurricular activities), our kids have multiple opportunities to be involved in multiple events. Their schedules have to be set way ahead of time.
“I do feel for Anna and Mrs. Garrison. No one wants to see a kid’s dreams crushed,” Underwood continued. “But at the end of the day, I couldn’t go back and reopen a tryout. If you go down that road you may never stop reopening tryouts.”
That sentiment was ultimately echoed by board members.
Trustee Keri Vanden Berge emphasized her belief that some standard needs to be in place to keep cheerleading from becoming a free-for-all, but that doesn’t mean she agrees completely with the current system for selection of cheerleaders at SHS.
“I’m in favor of not changing what we’ve done and of upholding the district’s decision,” Vanden Berge said, before adding, “I do think we need to look into it in the future.”
Trustee Cole Gilliam-Parks asked why the 80-point rule was in place, and neither Traweek or Underwood had an answer. Both stated they were simply upholding what was present in the current cheerleading constitution.
Jennifer Garrison questioned the number of judges on the ‘panel.’ Traweek stated there are regularly three judges on the panel, but the school has never had more than that. Only two judged the high school tryouts this year because weather prevented the third from being able to travel from west Texas.
Garrison also questioned what she believed to be inconsistencies in the judging, but Underwood said a judge he spoke with had judged at Stephenville before, and Traweek said the same company has provided the judges for at least four years.
In the end, trustee Gary Sult made the motion and Vanden Berge seconded it before the unanimous vote to uphold the decisions made by Traweek then Underwood, but no one on the board or in attendance at the meeting – not even administrator’s whose difficult decisions were upheld – seemed pleased with the situation.
“We’ve got kids who want to compete and have proven they can compete,” said Gilliam-Parks. “Should we really penalize them?”
Assuming she hopes to return to cheerleading her senior year, Garrison will have the opportunity to try out again as a junior next spring, perhaps with new selection criteria in place.
“Anna is not the only one not to make it. None of the cheer squads were filled to capacity,” said Jennifer Garrison. “I don’t feel they didn’t make cheerleader because their skill set has declined or because they are not quality cheerleaders. They didn’t make it because the system failed them.”