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The day before Collins High School was set to celebrate its KHSAA Class AAAA football state title, another group of students approached the school board to discuss a decision not to allow them to compete in a national competition.
The cheerleading team from Collins High School attended Thursday’s regular board meeting and used the public input session to make the board aware and ask for a change of heart on a decision by school officials to deny their participation in the Universal Cheerleaders Association’s National High School Cheerleading Championship, which is Feb. 8-9 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Because the competition falls on a Sunday and because the team requested to miss school on Friday, Collins Principal John Leeper and Superintendent James Neihof both denied the request. District policy states that students cannot participate in activities or travel on Sundays without prior approval.
Neihof reminded the board that several years ago board members had requested that only only academic and Kentucky High School Athletic Association-sanctioned events be brought to them for consideration of missing class time or traveling or competing on a Sunday.
“We’re asking for board approval to attend the competition, just like Shelby County [High School] did a few years ago,” said Macy Mize, a team captain. “Not letting us go penalizes us all the way back to the first time we put on a uniform.”
Mize also noted how much the team could learn from the opportunity of traveling, participating and competing together.
“This will provide us with so many leadership opportunities,” she told the board. “I know this, because as a freshman I was chosen perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I draw on that every time I go out to cheer.”
Kathryn Morrow, a junior on the squad, cited UCA as supporter of the KHSAA, even if it isn’t affiliated with Kentucky’s governing body.
“Activities are the other half of education,” Morrow said. “This is an event where we can learn a lot, and it’s something that will look great on a college resume, whether you plan to cheer in college or not.
“We’re a year-around sport that supports all of Collins [High School’s] sports, and we’re proud of that, but this is our time to shine.”
Student Madison Pumphrey said her squad just wants the same treatment the rest of the school’s teams receive.
“As a team, we need your support,” she said. “We support all the teams at Collins and celebrate their success, but where are our cheerleaders? Who’s standing in the freezing cold to support us? We have the highest GPA of any team in the school, and we’ve been working on our routine [for the national competition] since July.
“To be told we can’t attend – that would be heartbreaking to us.
“This is not a field trip. This is our chance to come off the sidelines and compete as a team and to win.”
The board, as is its practice with public input, did not respond, but did take up a few points in the board discussion portion of the meeting.
“There had been many requests throughout the years [for competition and travel on Sundays], and as those requests grew, you as a board told me to quit brining items to your attention unless they were KHSAA or academic,” Neihof told the board. “Since the competition isn’t until February, we would have time in January to make a decision, should you decide to do so.”
No formal request has been made to the board at this point.
“Is this one team from each state?” board member Eddie Mathis asked.
Neihof: “No, it’s my understanding that more than one team can come from each state, but you have to reach a certain level of skill to be invited.”
The cheerleaders plan to raise their own funding for the competition, which Leeper said is more than $15,000.
“And the team has ensured me that they will have no problem raising the money,” he said.
The board routinely approves trips with Sunday travel and Sunday practices for competition around postseason tournaments.
For instance, at this same meeting the board approved with no discussion to allow Sunday travel and a Friday of missed class time for Collins students attending both a senior school trip to New York City and the Kentucky Beta Club Convention.