Ray Carter | May 15, 2023

At Norman schools, ‘inclusion’ may trump student safety

Ray Carter

At Norman Public Schools, district officials recently mandated that all middle-school students who try out for the cheer squad will be accepted on the team, regardless of preparedness, in the name of “inclusion.”

Critics say that decision not only undermines efforts to teach students the value of hard work and perseverance but also could reduce student safety and increase the likelihood of injury.

In a recent email, T.D. O’Hara, director of athletics at Norman Public Schools, and Ethan Davis, principal of Whittier Middle School, announced that they were extending “the opportunity for all students who were involved in cheer clinics and evaluations this year to become a member of their designated grade cheer team.”

“District and site administration have worked diligently the past few years to address and improve many areas regarding MS cheer teams,” O’Hara and Davis wrote. “The efforts to improve our MS cheer teams have been centered around opportunity and inclusion of all students.”

“You can’t put that many girls in stunts up in the air and it be safe.” —Brittney Andrews

Brittney Andrews, who resigned as cheer coach after Norman officials handed down the edict, said there are typically 20 seventh-grade students and 20 eighth-grade students on the middle school cheer teams for a combined total of 40 students. Andrews oversaw the training for all 40 students along with an assistant coach.

Under the school’s new mandate, there would be 52 students on the teams this year.

While the teams do not participate in competitions, they do perform at many school functions and team members’ activities include “rigorous stunts” and tumbling, Andrews noted.

Without greater staffing and resources, she said student safety can be compromised when too many students are placed on a team.

“It just kind of becomes crowd control at some point,” Andrews said. “I mean, you can’t put that many girls in stunts up in the air and it be safe.”

The verbiage of the school district’s announcement was notable to critics. As “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ideology has been incorporated into more settings, the result has often been to de-emphasize individual achievement and merit.

When “equality” was previously emphasized, it allowed all individuals equal opportunity, but outcomes were based on merit and work ethic. Under an “equity” mindset, efforts focus on achieving the same outcome for all participants, regardless of individual effort or achievement.

Alyssa Amundsen, who provides private cheer coaching to clients, is among those criticizing Norman schools’ mandate.

“Cheerleading and Pom are already treated as a joke and do not receive adequate funding, support, facilities, etc., while (being) inherently more dangerous and just as much an athletic sport as anything else,” Amundsen said. “But now Norman wants to make it a social club, further reducing the credibility of the sport. It’s pathetic.”

Amundsen noted that she has been involved in cheerleading and gymnastics “my entire life.” From ages 11 to 18, she “trained 30 hours a week.” In college, she was on the All Girl Team for the University of Oklahoma’s first All Girl National Championship win in 2018.

“I believe that coaches and sports have a massive impact on the people that these kids turn out to be,” Amundsen said. “My focus is to make them incredible athletes, but even better human beings that embrace challenge and hard work while also maintaining a respectable and gracious character.”

Andrews also believes the “everyone makes the team” edict undermines important lessons that youth learn through sports.

Last year, seven students who did not make the team were allowed to be practice participants, but they did not perform at public events.

“All seven of those girls continued practicing, went to private (training), all of the things, got way better, and they ended up making the team this year,” Andrews said. “So my main concern is that they put all of that work into it for nothing, because now they (district officials) are saying, ‘Well, everybody can be a part of the team.’ So what was the point of those girls who didn’t make it last year working super-hard this year?”

Andrews said she was open to providing opportunities for girls who didn’t make the squad to continue working on their skills, but not at the same level as those who make the team “because that’s very dangerous, stunting and all of that, with girls who really don’t have any business stunting.”

Andrews said she is not aware of a similar edict being handed down for any other sports teams, male or female, in the school district. Andrews said she was not consulted by district officials who handed down the edict.

Officials with Norman Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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