Close, but no bylaw: IHSA commission shoots down cheerleading proposals

By Maddie Lee

Two controversial proposals, meant to prevent cheating in competitive cheerleading by placing restrictions on sideline cheerleading, hit a wall Monday in the Illinois High School Association Legislative Commission meeting.

The winter sideline cheer proposal (No. 17) to implement start and end dates needed a majority vote to make it onto the December ballot, but it was defeated in a tie. Once that one failed, commission member and proposals co-author Steven May asked members to vote down the fall sideline proposal (No. 18) to implement start and end dates, calling the two a “package deal.”

“I think if 17 would have passed,” said Legislative Commission member James Quaid, “18 would have followed.”

Proposals 17 and 18 would have restricted the start and end dates of the winter and fall seasons for sideline cheer (an activity) to keep schools from using those unfairly as practice for competitive cheerleading (an IHSA sport since 2005).

Competitive and sideline cheer overlap during the winter, and the IHSA requires competitive team members to participate in winter sideline cheerleading. The blending of activity and sport makes IHSA regulation trickier and rule changes challenging. All season restrictions, even on activities, must be implemented through IHSA sports bylaws.

“Change is tough to swallow sometimes,” said Homewood-Flossmoor athletics director and proposals co-writer Dan Vosnos.

May said other officials told him they might have supported the proposals if they also had included dance, another activity.

Vosnos and May hoped the proposals would prevent teams from getting away with gaining the advantage of practicing competitive routines out of season.

“Because it’s an activity … some schools select their sideline cheer and they just roll it into winter cheer,” Vosnos said. “As athletic administrators who walk into a cheer room to see a fall practice going on, I’m going to be honest with you, I can’t tell if the stunts they’re doing are part of competition or part of sideline.”

Proposal 18 would have moved all fall sideline tryouts to fall; some teams hold tryouts in the spring. Vosnos said moving tryouts to the fall would increase freshman and transfer participation and eliminate the hassle of running two tryouts. The logistics of getting two groups of students cleared for participation, he said, are a “nightmare.”

Glenbard East High School cheerleading coach Kelly Dolan also is worried that some teams practice their competitive routines before the official start date, but said GEHS does not. She still had concerns about the proposals, especially the fall restrictions covered in 18.

GEHS holds a main cheer tryout in the spring and a second one in the fall. If the proposals would have passed, everyone interested in cheer would be invited to summer practices and camp.

“For me to have a camp with girls who have never cheered or learned the progressions,” she said, “there would be a huge safety concern.”

Otherwise, Dolan said, Glenbard East would need to hire more coaches beyond the current five to accommodate the roughly 120 cheerleaders who are at various skill levels.

She also said the two weeks between fall tryouts and the start of football season would  not be enough for new cheerleaders to learn the sideline cheers.

According to Dolan, there was a movement among cheer coaches to get more information about the proposals and then take their concerns to their school representatives.

“We were able to pull together,” she said.

From Nov. 5-18, representatives from every IHSA school voted on the 18 proposals in town meetings. A commissioner was present at each meeting.

“Looking at the results of the state and town hall meetings, there were pockets that support it and pockets that didn’t,” said May.

May is considering adjusting the proposals and submitting them again next year. Vosnos is all for it. Vosnos said he thinks proposals 17 and 18 were not explained thoroughly in all the town meetings, leading to misconceptions.

Photo at top: Had proposals 17 and 18 passed, the Glenbard East fall sideline cheer team would have had to eliminate their spring tryouts. (Kelly Dolan/Courtesy)