At Clay County School, Concerns over Race and Cheerleading

The Anniston Star, May 15, 2012

Concerns over racial discrimination are surfacing in Clay County as two area schools prepare to merge into one.

The four black students who tried out the first cheer team at Central High School of Clay County didn’t make the cut. School officials say the girls didn’t score well enough to secure a place on the team. Members of the black community say that the selection process was unfair from the start.

“I don’t want to believe it was racially motivated,” said Tramaine Solomon, the local pastor of a black congregation. “I just think there was a lack of consideration.”

Some black community members recently asked the school board to add more black students to the squad. School officials declined the request, saying the process for selecting the cheer team shouldn’t be changed.

“The ones that do the best are the ones that are going to be cheerleaders,” said the new school’s principal, Bobby Vinson. “I think it’s extremely fair.”

Twenty-six girls and two male students tried out for the Clay County Central High School team. The 18-member squad, selected in March, includes 17 white students and one mixed-race student, two of whom are males.

Lineville and Clay County Schools will merge to form Clay County Central High School next year. Each school’s student population is majority white and between 25 and 30 percent black, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

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According to Solomon, pastor of Spring Hill Baptist Church in Lineville, black students who didn’t make the team were not strong tumblers. Since the system assessed students based on tumbling, a skill that’s often learned in after-school classes, it’s not fair to keep the black students from participating in cheering because they don’t fare well in that one area, Solomon said.

As a result, Solomon contends, black students are automatically at a disadvantage when they begin cheerleading tryouts.

“Most minorities do not have the money to pay for that,” Solomon said of tumbling classes.

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Solomon said he and other community members have been meeting at area churches for about a month to talk about what they believe to be racial discrimination in the cheer-selection process for the new high school. They are asking the school system to designate at least two slots on the cheer team for black students.

According to Vinson, that would not be fair to make places for girls based on race. He said the students should be selected based on ability.

Maureen Costello heads up a tolerance education program for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She said there seems to be a troubling problem surfacing at the emerging Clay County school.

“This is a classic example of this notion that there is a level playing field when, in fact, there is not a level playing field,” Costello said. “It’s favored to the advantaged.”

She also said there is unequal racial representation in several high school activities.

She said some sports, such as basketball, include a disproportionate number of black students. Other activities, such as marching band, include a disproportionate number of white students, she said.

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Vinson said the school conducted its cheer tryouts much in the same way other local county systems do. A check with county school systems in Calhoun and Talladega counties supported his statement.

The school gave each of the students what administrators call a cheer constitution. It outlines the skills that the stu-dents will have to master to contend for a place on the team, Vinson said.

The students learn that they will be judged based on their ability to jump, cheer, dance and tumble. They receive one three-hour training session to learn routines one week before tryouts and they have access to the gym for practice, Yates said.

Four judges from a national cheerleading organization judged students on the technical aspects of cheering. Two of the judges were white and two were black.

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“Provisions were made for males and females, race was never a consideration,” Yates said.

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