East Jessamine High School’s cheerleading squad received a bid to perform at a national competition for the first time ever, but the team likely will not be able to go because of a current policy the school board wants to change.
The East High team received a bid to the Universal Cheerleaders Association’s National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando in February 2014. Cheerleaders say they are the first coed team from Jessamine County ever to qualify for nationals.
Current Jessamine County Board of Education policy dictates that athletic teams can only take field trips that cause them to miss school days if the trip is for in-state postseason playoffs. The East cheerleaders would miss at least one day of school for the trip.
More than two dozen cheerleaders from East High packed the conference room at the school board’s November meeting, with senior John Norman speaking on behalf of his teammates, telling board members of the squad’s bid to nationals and urging them to support the trip.
The East High squad has 31 cheerleaders. They had only two boys on the team last year and recruited six more to be able to be competitive in the coed division this year.
“We are competitors to actually win the national championship and come home with the national title,” Norman said.
Norman told the board he and his classmates were more than willing to make up missed class time through online-education software and on the long bus ride to and from Florida.
A policy change would likely come through the school district’s athletic advisory council, whose next scheduled meeting is in January. Chief of staff Matt Moore told board members in November that he had four main field-trip topics to address with the council, including an exception to allow missed school time for competitive national events.
Moore said last week that he had spoken with board members, athletic directors and parents and believed there was a consensus to move forward with a policy change.
“When students qualify or when teams qualify for national tournaments, we feel like there probably should be an exception for that,” he said. “It doesn’t just apply to cheerleading … I think it could also apply to other sports like archery and bowling.”
Moore said Dara Bass from the Kentucky School Boards Association was gathering information about similar policies across the state. He said it would be tough to have a new policy in place in time to allow the cheerleaders to attend the Feb. 8-9 event.
“I think it will be difficult to have one completed before then, but we’re moving as quickly as we can,” he said.
East High cheerleading coach Kristen Mulcahy said Monday that her team members “deserve to go” to the national competition. The squad has seven seniors who would not get another shot at the national competition.
“They’ve worked really hard. They actually got disqualified at the state competition because of some judging issues, and at this point, this is what they’re working for,” she said. “For them to be turned down for this, too, it’s just going to crush them, basically.”
Mulcahy said her team stood a good chance of placing well in the coed division this year after having only two boys on the squad last year.
“In order to even be competitive in the coed division, you’ve got to have more than that, so we have eight this year,” she said. “It takes the competition to the next level, basically, because you have more boys that can throw the girls; it’s just a whole new look for us. They really could do well.”
Some representatives of West Jessamine High School cheerleading were also in attendance at the November school-board meeting but did not speak to the board. Moore said the West High cheerleaders had also received a bid for the same 2014 national competition.
The West cheerleaders received a bid to the UCA nationals last year and attended the competition, Moore said, missing one day of school in the process. Moore said the administration did not know the students would miss school for the trip when it was approved; he said that trip did not meet the board’s policy.
An additional hurdle for West attending the 2014 UCA nationals is the school board’s cost limit for field trips. While teams can take a trip that costs up to $100 per day per student every year, they can only take a trip that costs up to $200 per day per student every two years. Moore said West’s trip last year was over the $100-per-day limit and that the trip this year would also have cost more than $100 per day.
Mulcahy said she thought the school board was missing the importance of the opportunity for East Jessamine High School’s cheerleaders.
“They could go down and win — that’s what they’re not understanding,” she said. “Send a team down and represent Jessamine County.”