Coaching controversy causes brief cheer hiatus

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Coaching controversy causes brief cheer hiatus

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Noah Gross, Baraka Aboul-Magd

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After a summer of searching for new cheerleading coaches, Athletic Director Mitch Gore thought that he found his match with Taylor Hodge and Shante Tyler. “They were Division I cheerleaders, so they both had lots of experience. I thought they would bring structure and organization to the program,” Gore said.

But as the season progressed, tensions heightened between team members and the new coaches, ultimately resulting in a week-long suspension of cheer activities.

“The coaches were giving us an attitude and trying to change up the whole Wilson style. We felt like they weren’t including us in their plan,” said junior and captain Jaidyn Barber. “The way they [the coaches] worked was, it was their way or no way,” added another captain, junior Keymiah Armstrong.

Tiffany Mercer, who served as an advisor for the cheerleading team, said that there was hostility from both the cheerleaders and the coaches. “There was a lot of back and forth via the app that we use to communicate when practice is, etc. It was not a one-sided situation… both parties played a significant role.”

Gore offered a different analysis. “I think the main factor was that we had young coaches and that they had trouble adjusting to dealing with how to lead and coach young ladies.”

Eventually, Mercer felt that the conflict had gotten out of hand and sought out Gore. “I contacted Coach Gore because there was too much back and forth [between the cheerleaders and coaches] and that it would be best to sit them down for a little while because it got to a point to where there was no respect,” Mercer explained.

Hearing this, Gore and Co-Athletic Director Nadira Ricks held separate meetings with the cheerleaders and the coaches. It was clear to Gore and Ricks that the animosity between the two sides wasn’t going to mend itself. With the help of Principal Kimberly Martin as well as Mercer, Gore and Ricks made the decision to suspend the team from all cheerleading activities. “We decided, ‘let’s have some downtime, re-examine where we are, decide how we are going to move forward, if we are going to the competition, and who is going to lead the program,’” Gore explained. Martin approved the decision.

“You can’t have kids in an unsafe situation,” she said. “So oftentimes having a break lets everybody take a breath and reset,” she said.
The suspension was set the week of December 10, which was the first week of DCIAA league play for the girls and boys basketball teams and the last week of school before winter break. Junior Chandler Mabry, another cheerleader on the team, said of the suspension, “At first I was in the middle and I felt [the suspension] wouldn’t change anything. But then I used the time to think about how I can bring new ideas to the team.”

At the end of the winter sports season, DCIAA hosts an annual cheer competition where cheerleading squads perform a two to three-minute routine. These routines often involve tumbling, music, aerials, and pyramids and take months of practice in order to perfect. At the time of the suspension, the Tigers had barely made any progress in their routine. Over the break, the athletic department faced yet another decision: what would happen to the team following the suspension? “We had to consider whether we should stop the team for the season or if there is a way to move forward,” Gore said. “And if we come back, do we try to whip it all together [the routine] when we come back or do we just do sideline cheer?”

“We decided to hold a meeting with cheerleaders and parents when we came back from break. We planned to say that we wanted to continue the season, but not compete in the competition because we were unprepared, and unfortunately say goodbye to our coaches,” Gore said. Cheerleading coaches have two separate contracts—one for the fall and one for the winter—and the athletic department decided not to renew Taylor and Hodge’s winter contract. “I care about our student-athletes and our school. So our decisions were based on that. We wanted to make sure our cheerleaders had someone who could lead them properly,” Gore explained.

Since the cheerleading team has returned to action there has been positive change, including Mercer and counselor Aleta Lane being appointed as new coaches. “It was the best decision they made all year because ever since she stepped in we’ve been better,” Armstrong said. Mabry added, “Performance-wise, we are louder and clearer, and now it’s a space where we can bring ideas and nothing is shut down. We are all happy.”

Gore and Martin have noticed this improvement as well. “They came out and did a JV [basketball] game that first week in January when we came back as a practice. And I was like, ‘I like that,’” Gore said.
“When I went to the last basketball game, it was Ms. Mercer and the girls and they looked good. I mean, it was like a college team! Their uniforms were crisp. They were tight. It looked like a show!” Martin said. “They were beautiful, beautiful. The cheerleaders were on point.”