Cheer coaches quit
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
With less than a month to make plans for cheerleading camp, Hartselle High School cheerleaders are without coaches.
Superintendent Dr. Lee Hartsell received written resignations Friday morning from HHS cheerleading coaches Martha Cooper and Sonie Wilson after a Thursday night school board meeting where they were asked to explain the cheerleading selection process.
Hartsell asked Cooper and Wilson to explain the process after a complaint was filed with the board regarding Wilson's private gymnastics school, Hartselle Gymnastics, and its effect on the selection process.
Cooper, speaking for herself and Wilson, began the explanation by stating cheerleading coaches at HHS select their team just as other coaches at the school do.
"Does gymnastics have a bearing on cheerleading at Hartselle High School? Yes, indeed it does," Cooper told the crowd of nearly 150 parents, faculty, and students. "It gives them an edge at the college level. We select and cut cheerleaders from this and other gymnastics programs. We don't apologize at all for the high standard we have set for HHS cheerleaders."
Cooper and Wilson filed verbal resignations before the meeting. They have been the HHS cheerleading coaches for at least four years.
"I know a lot of people are upset about this issue, and frankly we were upset about the resignations," Board President Ronnie Abercrombie said. "We were in no way asking for or trying to get these ladies to resign. We appreciate the job they and the squad have done, but the program will go on regardless."
After Cooper and Wilson spoke, Abercrombie opened the floor to those wanting to speak on behalf of or against the cheerleading program selection process.
Numerous cheerleading parents, of whom many said their daughters attended gymnastics schools other than Wilson's, supported the coaches and their selection process. HHS Principal Jerry Reeves, Wilson's husband, Paul, and father, Bill Smelser, and Hartselle teachers also spoke in support of Wilson and Cooper.
"We have tried every way known to man when it comes to cheerleading tryouts," Reeves said. "The board policy changed a few years ago, and they (Cooper and Wilson) have followed it to the letter. I think it's an outstanding process."
Resident Mike Dowdy, who filed the complaint in order to "level the playing field," spoke against the cheerleading selection process.
Dowdy claimed death threats had been made against himself and his family because he filed the complaint. However, Dowdy has not filed any complaint with the Hartselle Police Department regarding the alleged death threats.
Resident Rosemary Chappell asked only whether the sponsors were in violation of the board's conflict-of-interest policy.
Dowdy and Chappell were the only two people to speak against the cheerleading program.
"Honestly, I don't care how they select their team," Hartsell said at the end of the discussion. "Even if we use outside judges, the sponsors should have the final say. They have the expertise."
Hartsell said the coaching positions were posted Friday and will be open for one week.
"If anyone applies, I hope we can have something decided by the next board meeting," Hartsell said.
The next school board meeting will be held Thursday, March 18, at 6 p.m. at Hartselle High School.