At May 28’s final CIF Southern Section meeting of the school year, a very heated debate came about, and it had nothing to do with proposed changes to the football playoff divisions. Traditional competitive cheerleading was the sport at the center of the debate and was the topic that had many athletic directors and administrators scratching their heads.

The lack of growth in traditional competitive cheerleading might be attributed to the fact that teams cannot compete Sundays, which means they can’t take part in top national events. Valley News/AC Sports photo

A proposal that was submitted by the Del Rio League asking the CIF-SS to allow schools to compete Sundays in the National High School Cheerleading Championships, which are held annually in Florida. Unfortunately, CIF does not allow teams to practice or compete Sundays, so the proposal sought an exemption for cheerleading teams to compete one Sunday a year in the national championship event.

After much debate, opponents of the proposal said the exception would lead to other sports seeking exceptions to the rule, resulting in the CIF-SS Council voting 46-39-5 in support of the proposal. It still needs to be passed by other sections in the state before it becomes a state rule.

According to the Del Rio League proposal, cheerleaders do not participate in traditional head-to-head competition in their leagues like other sports do. It also said that national-level competitions have provided wonderful opportunities for these high school athletes to compete and be seen by college recruiters. These athletes could miss the important opportunities that they have had before CIF inclusion and asking these competitions to move away from their Sunday spot is difficult as they require large venues.

La Serna cheerleading coach, Elena Klock, who has been coaching for 18 years, is one of the coaches at the forefront of the debate and has been advocating for this proposal for several years.

“I think the average person that doesn’t know what competitive cheerleading is about doesn’t have the perspective needed,” Klock told the media. “It’s been frustrating, but many have tried to put us in a box and then shut the door. What people need to understand is that we didn’t ask for the sport to be part of the section, (CIF) brought it on us.” READING

Five years ago, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, brought legislation to the state assembly floor that would require the CIF State office to add competitive cheerleading as a sport. The bill passed 71-3 and was signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Cheerleaders are athletes, and it’s time the CIF recognizes competition cheer as an official sport,” Gonzalez said at the meeting.

The transition to becoming a CIF-SS-sanctioned sport hasn’t been easy, and the support the sport has seen the past several seasons at its sectional championships has been mixed. Thom Simmons, assistant commissioner of CIF Southern Section, said after this year’s championships that the number of teams that participated were “pretty much identical to what they were last year.”

A proposal to the CIF Southern Section is asking that schools housing traditional competitive cheer teams be able to compete Sundays in the National High School Cheerleading Championships. Valley News/AC Sports photo

A main reason attributed to the lack of growth, according to many coaches, is that CIF-SS rules wouldn’t allow teams to compete Sundays, which means they couldn’t take part in the top national events.

The National High School Cheerleading Championships lure many college programs to recruit the best cheerleaders and gains valuable exposure through a television deal with ESPN. It is also recognized as a national championship by the National Federation of High School Associations.

“It is a dream for our girls to be at nationals,” Klock said. “When you are at this event, you are competing against 800 of the best cheerleaders in the country. These girls have trained their entire life to get a chance to compete at this event. It’s not fair to the kids, parents and coaches to not be able to compete at this event because the last day is on a Sunday.”

Opponents to the legislation pointed out that by allowing one sport to compete Sunday, it would open the floodgates to other sports to request exemptions, too.

“It puts us on a very, very slippery slope,” James Perry, president-elect of the CIF Southern Section’s executive committee, said. “We constantly hear about how unique and special different sports are.”

Klock strongly pushed back against Perry’s statement.

“We are part of the governing body,” Klock said. “He is right…our sport is unique, and it is special. To lump us together with other sports like baseball and basketball is not fair. I was glad that (outgoing CIF-SS Executive Director Dr. Monica Colunga) said that our section’s leadership should be able to work with sports that are different. That is what a federation does.”

The legislation will have a final vote by the CIF State Federated Council in October. If it is passed, the legislation will be implemented for the 2021-2022 athletic season.

For more information visit www.cifss.org.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.