Maxwell to consider changes to cheerleading program

The Maxwell Unified School District board decided last week that if female athletes and their parents want the school to reconsider its position on whether cheerleading is a sport or a club, then they will have to come before them and plead their cases.

Maxwell High School currently recognizes its sideline cheerleading program as a sport in that the 12 girls on the squad are given the same access to coaching, equipment, support services, and physical education waivers as athletes who participate in other sports like volleyball and softball.

“The girls work very, very hard,” said Lori Costa, Maxwell High School’s cheerleading coach.

Zach Thurman, Maxwell superintendent of schools, said some parents have asked for the district to reconsider making the cheerleading program a club.

As a club, female students would have a way around the rule prohibiting them from playing two sports at the same time, he said.

Thurman said if the program is changed, some athletes would opt to cheer as a club activity and play volleyball as a sport, instead of having to choose one over the other.

None of the students interested, however, attended last week’s school board meeting when the matter was on the agenda, and trustees said they wouldn’t make any changes to the program without hearing arguments for the change.

Under the current program, cheerleaders put in four days of afternoon practice in order to cheer at athletic events.

Even missing one day of practice puts the athlete at a disadvantage in learning routines, and they catch up through one-on-one peer support, said Coach Costa.

Costa said as a sport, cheerleaders learn discipline and take pride in displaying their athletic talents.

“I want them to be successful,” she said. “I want them to empower themselves.”

Costa said she would support whatever direction the school board takes on cheerleading, but in order for cheerleaders to play volleyball, practice would have to be moved to before school when Costa is unavailable, which could leave the program without an advisor.

Additional cheerleaders would also increase uniform costs, something that would likely shift to club members, and transportation needs would also have to be addressed, officials said. School board members said they want their students to participate in clubs and sports, but that too much emphasis on extracurricular activities could impede their academic performance.   

School Board President Kim Giffin said she thought cheerleading and playing volleyball was asking too much of their students.

Others feared that teachers would further change lesson plans to accommodate student absences for sports.

Giffin, however, said the school board would place the matter on April’s agenda if students and parents want to discuss it.

Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, the California Interscholastic Federation will begin sanctioning competitive cheerleading as a sport (AB 949), providing the squad competes in at least one competition during the school year.

Officials said that is also something the school and the athletes might want to consider.

“I’m open to whatever the school district wants to do,” Costa said.