SCV high school cheer teams hold virtual tryouts

Canyon High School's cheerleaders cheer on members of the football team as they race to eat a burrito as fast as they can at the 8th annual Burrito Bowl by the WiSH Education Foundation at Westfield Valencia Town Center on Tuesday, August 22, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Several high school cheer teams in the William S. Hart Union High School District are planning to hold virtual introductory parent meetings and virtual team tryouts this year due to COVID-19.

This development has prompted some to question the safety and necessity of requiring kids to try out at home, but one cheer adviser said there’s little choice under the circumstances.

“Every parent I’ve spoken to is completely hysterical, terrified for their children,” said a source familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It just doesn’t seem like a very healthy thing to be doing right now.”

Among the concerns, the source said, are safety, the emotional well-being of the students and the cost commitment being asked of parents who may be experiencing financial hardships.

According to Valencia Cheer Adviser Tiffany Bernier, parents and potential team members do not need to pay before they’ve made the team, and since it is a public school, no student is required to pay anything at all.

“The only thing (incoming freshmen) have to do prior to the school year is purchase a uniform, and if that’s not possible then our boosters help with providing uniforms if they can’t afford a uniform.”

Bernier said pompoms, boxes, camps and coaches do cost the program money, but their financing is done through donations.

“Over the entire year, it’s going to be about $2,000 that includes their uniform, and poms and all that cheer stuff. But because we do so much fundraising over the course of the year, most of the time, they only end up paying about half of that amount,” said Bernier. “But if a student can’t afford to make that donation, they’re not held to that.”

Hart, Castaic, West Ranch and Golden Valley high schools have indicated on their team websites that they plan virtual tryouts. Saugus and Canyon have indicated their tryout information is to be determined.

Cheer tryouts — freshmen through varsity — are typically held near the end of the spring semester, meaning eighth-graders completing junior high school usually go through their first high school tryout under supervision of coaches, with help from older cheerleaders who demonstrate routines.

Instead, due to the social distancing shutdowns, aspiring cheerleaders in the coming week are expected to participate in virtual prep sessions followed by tryouts via a remote video. They are expected to learn and perform a routine and demonstrate tumbling skills.

“It is not safe,” said the source who spoke confidentially, regarding students performing skills at home without a coach present. “The safety was the biggest issue, because who’s responsible if that kid cracks their head open on the coffee table?”

The source said parents, particularly those of eighth-graders, are concerned about the emotional challenge of not only trying to transition into high school while schools are closed, but also compounding the stress of trying out by doing it remotely. “This pulls at my heartstrings. There are hard-core emotions at this age.”

Bernier said tumbling during tryouts would be an option for the applicants and they would be rating cheers, jumps and the dance portion with a higher emphasis than tumbling.

“We asked them that they only do tumbling that they could do on grass,” said Bernier. “I’ve been clear, if you are not able to safely perform the stunt you want to do for the tryout, do not do it. Our points for tumbling are minimal.”

“If they need a spotter (during the tryout), they should not be doing it,” Bernier added.

Bernier said that in polling the girls, parents and boosters, the consensus was that it was more stressful for kids to not know when they are going to try out than to do it this way.

“I completely understand from an outside perspective that this may be too stressful,” said Bernier. “But most of the girls that have reached out are excited that they get to do something that they love, and to just focus on. They want to solidify their place on the team, and they want to know that they have something to look forward to.”

Bernier said delaying the tryouts wasn’t a viable option.

“If you don’t try out before the summer, that means that when we’re able to practice we don’t have a team to practice with,” said Bernier. “And if we’re able to go to camp, which the highlight of the year is going to (Universal Cheerleaders Association summer camp), we don’t get to go to camp, we don’t get to order the uniforms. It’s like a snowball effect.”

Bernier added that the virtual tryouts are in line with tryouts being conducted by the Universal Cheerleaders Association and most big cheer colleges.

A parent from the VHS cheer team said she agreed with the way in which tryouts were moving forward.

“Under the circumstances I am totally fine with it and I’m happy that they’re doing it,” said Erin Pollard, whose daughter is heading into her senior year. “And this gave her something to look forward to, some kind of sense of normalcy, quote-unquote, ‘You know that cheer is going to be there next year in some form.’”

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