San Lorenzo Valley High School varsity and junior varsity cheer squads have been practicing their aerials, basket tosses and roundoffs in the campus’s cafeteria since 1992. The space allows for throwing stunts into the air, storing and laying out the required heavy and expensive safety mats, and providing a safe locale for the cheerleaders to nail their routines.
While the squads usually shake their pom poms to lift school spirit, they’re now shaking them to rally against a sudden and stunning decision by school and district staff to disallow the cheer teams to use the cafeteria for their practice space.
SLVHS cheer coaches Erin Angiolani and Brienne Jordan were notified Aug. 18 that effective immediately, the cafeteria was off-limits to the cheerleading teams. Angiolani and Jordan had been coaching the 2023-24 team since April and were caught off guard by the determination issued by Alisia Muñoz-Rojas, Director of Student Nutrition Services for the school district.
“We received the email notifying us of their decision to prohibit our team’s use of the cafeteria on the 18th; we had practice scheduled for the following Monday, and there was no mention of other accommodations available to us,” Jordan said.
Angiolani and Jordan were also given no explanation regarding the decision.
An email sent to the coaches on Aug. 18 by Muñoz-Rojas said, “Due to the increasing demands of various school programs and activities, we have had to make adjustments to our facility usage. Unfortunately, this means that the cafeteria will not be available for the cheerleading team. I understand that this change might present challenges for your team’s practices and activities. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. In light of this, we kindly request that you return the key to the cafeteria that was previously provided to you for access.”
And with that, the SLVHS cheerleaders were left out in the cold.
The SLV coaches had forged a temporary reciprocity agreement with Scotts Valley High School for use of their gym following their ouster by the district, but that was short-lived as intramural sports began in late August.
Per instructions in the email from Muñoz-Rojas, Angioliani and Jordan contacted Assistant Superintendent Julie McCarthy to get more information.
McCarthy stated in an email that a new California rule had been implemented, “requiring school districts to offer 9 hours of school each day.” SLV High School’s cafeteria had been repurposed to accommodate the new Expanded Opportunities Learning Program (ELOP), but that program only runs until 4:30pm during the week; cheer practice starts at 5pm on Mondays and Wednesdays, providing no conflict with ELOP’s execution.
“We offered to move tables, sweep, mop, anything. There was no compromise given, and we were told to find another space on campus for our team,” Jordan said.
When the coaches asked if the district would rather see the cafeteria sit empty instead of having it utilized for their cheer team, the response was a short, “Yes.”
The coaching staff and cheer teams were not the only people visibly upset by the district’s decision. On Sept. 6, the district’s board room was flooded with cheerleaders, parents and community members who spoke on behalf of the squad during the SLVUSD Board of Trustees meeting. The board heard from 10 advocates for the squad (public comment time during board meetings allows a maximum of 20 minutes of speaking time, with each speaker allotted two minutes).
Angioliani and Jordan’s impassioned pleas to reverse the district’s decision were followed by similar requests from a cheer captain, parents, a former coach and others. Each spoke about the benefits of the cheer program, including improved physical and emotional health of the participants, and shared their dismay at the district’s abrupt decision to bar the squad from their well-established practice space.
Several speakers referenced an online petition that had been started following the district’s determination. Started on Aug. 29 by Angioliani and Jordan, it had garnered over 800 signatures, and as of this writing, it boasts over 1,000.
Parents lamented that a new school year is always a stressor for teenagers; adding the confusion and chaos around canceled practices only amplified the anxiety some of the cheerleaders already face and led to depression for some members of the squad.
The coaches pointed out that, like all school sports, participating in cheer is a privilege and not a right. Student-athletes are required to maintain a 2.0 GPA with no F’s and must attend regular practice sessions in order to participate in on-field cheer activities.
In addition, the camaraderie and socioemotional wellness that is built from being part of the squad were highlighted by many who spoke, and the lack of district personnel’s awareness regarding the impact of their decision was derided.
SLV Booster President Morgan Scarborough queried the board as to why the issue needed to be discussed at the district level, rather than having it addressed at the school level.
“That doesn’t make any sense to me, nor probably does it make sense to anyone here,” Scarborough said. “At the end of the day, we’re all here for the same reason: to support these kids. They’re doing something positive, engaging in sports and training for the real world. They have a common goal and they’re working together to achieve that.”
He added that district staff told him that cheerleading is not a CIF-recognized sport.
“It’s a weak way to handle that question,” Scarborough said. “I view these girls from a booster perspective as competing in a recognized sport through hard work and teamwork via athletics. Regardless as to whether the sport is recognized by CIF, we need to be supporting them and providing a place for them to practice.”
While the board had the opportunity to ask questions of the various speakers, none were posed, and the cheerleaders and their supporters were left out in the cold once again.
Those wishing to advocate for the SLVHS cheerleading squad can add their name to the petition at change.org; or contact Angiolani and Jordan at [email protected], or Julie McCarthy, SLVUSD chief business officer, at [email protected].