Parents furious over plan to end competitive cheer

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A local high school is ready to give the cheerleading squad the boot even though they're the state champs. The girls are devastated and parents are angry. The district offered an apology for how all this was handled and now they may even make some concessions.

The Sunrise Mountain High School Spiritlifters have competed at the state and national level. Last weekend’s state championship wasn't the first time they brought home a trophy.

“Specifically, the coaches brought them there,” Bruce Ford said.

Ford’s daughter, Tiffany, is a junior on the team and he said the head coach resigned recently. The two assistants are leaving by the end of this year.

“Are you telling me cheerleaders are not athletes?” can be heard off camera in a meeting between Sunrise Mountain principal Jerry Nunez, parents and cheerleaders. The meeting last Wednesday became heated as the principal outlined his plan for ending competitive cheer altogether.

“It would be like telling the football players, or whatever sport you choose, you can play, in fact you can do intramural, but we're not going to let you compete," Ford said. "You wouldn't do that to any other program.”

The Peoria Unified School District apologized for the way the meeting was handled, but said principals have some autonomy.

“It's not uncommon for a principal to re-evaluate a program every year,” said Danielle Airey, director of public relations. “Because there was a resignation of coaches, it provided timing of changes going forward.”

The district said Monday there will be some level of competitive cheer at the high school once they find a new coach, but the parents believe they would still have coaches if there hadn't been so much conflict with administration.

In the video from the meeting, Nunez admitted to parents he wanted to end competitive cheer because of “personal preference.” He wants cheerleaders to provide spirit and support to other sports teams.

Parents have used the words sexist and disrespectful to describe the situation.
“The change and re-evaluating the program is most certainly not a reflection of the talent of these young ladies,” Airey said.

Parents are skeptical the district will come to their aid. They are looking at any options to save this team or move their children.

“Oddly enough, the principal offered to help them transfer, which was a little offensive,” Ford said.

Parents meanwhile plan to take this issue to the Board of Education on Thursday. There is also discussion about taking legal action.