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.
A systemic problem
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.
Many of the girls on the cheer team take cheer or tumbling classes in Alexander City, Pell City or Anniston. Classes are also offered at Center Stage in Lineville and once a week at Lineville High School, said cheer team sponsor Jody Yates.
Rates range between $40 and $160 per month depending on the location of the gym or studio and whether the stu-dents take classes one or two times a week.
When asked, Yates said at least two of the black students who tried out have taken tumbling courses in the past. She was unsure whether they took the course on a consistent basis.
Race and economic woes
If black families in Clay County are having a tough time making ends meet, they are not alone. According to census data from 2010, 45 percent of the state’s black children live in poverty.
America’s black population is more inclined to face poverty for a number of reasons, said Richard Fording, who chairs the political science department at the University of Alabama.
Black children are more likely to live in single-parent homes. Their parents are less likely to have a high level of education, work skills or experience, Fording said. Political scientists believe that is at least in part due to contemporary and historic discrimination against blacks.
Asking for exceptions
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.
'Race was never a consideration'
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.
Each student received individual scores, which were tallied by one of the judges and a math teacher. In the end, the school took the top 16 females scorers and the two males who tried out, Vinson said.
Sixteen slots were reserved for female students and four were reserved for boys. Two boys tried out and both were selected for the team based on their ability, Yates said.
“Provisions were made for males and females, race was never a consideration,” Yates said.
Yates said the issue is not black and white, she said it’s individual. Failing to make the team is tough on the students, she said.
Yates said that of the 28 students who tried out 10 students, including two cheerleaders who will be seniors next year, did not make the team. Of the two seniors, both of whom cheered for Yates' own team this year, one was black and one was white.
“I hate it and I knew it was going to be hurtful, but I never dreamed it was going to be hurtful like this,” Yates said. “I hurt for all the kids that didn’t make it.”
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_Star.