But I Don’t Want My Kid to Lose!

The July 19, 2016, Tallahassee Democrat story which reported a student is threatening legal action because she was not selected for the Leon High School Cheerleading Squad has traveled far beyond our county’s boundaries. (It’s in Buzzfeed, the New York Daily News, and Teen Vogue, to name just a few publications which have shared the piece.)

In one comment I read on Facebook, a Leon Alum shared with his fellow alums, “I am just PRAYING there is another Leon High School out there,” citing how embarrassing it was for this story to be prominent on a local site in a state far from Florida. Nope, friend, that’s “our” Leon. (I am a proud parent of a Leon alum, hold the school in high regard, and would prefer the national stories to highlight Leon’s fabulous positive assets, like the Mane Event’s version of I Want You Back).

The Dissatisfied Cheerleader (and the Dissatisfied Cheerleader’s Mom)

After reading hundreds of comments which all essentially said some version of “suck it up buttercup,” “this is the problem with kids today,” and “her parents aren’t doing her any favors,” I’m at a bit of a loss re: what to add. My sentiments are, in many ways, aligned with theirs.

But if you know me, you know I love a blogging challenge, so I decided to take a page out of Mama Kat’s book and give this situation a soundtrack (she had a June writing prompt encouraging bloggers to “create a summer playlist”).

Track One: High School Student Wants To Be Able to Say “We Are Cheerleaders”

I definitely empathize with a high school student who wants to be a cheerleader. I did not try out for cheerleading at my high school until I was a rising senior. To this day, 35 years later, I can still feel how my gut was clenching with nerves as I sat in class waiting for tryout time. I did make it, and am SO glad to have the memory of being part of the cheer squad at my school. But I went to a very small high school; there’s no way my rudimentary skills would have qualified me at a large school like Leon. I can only imagine how fierce the competition is. I understand (I think) how fervently this student hoped to make the team for her senior year.

Track Two: The Student Did Not Make the Squad

According to the story, the student, a rising high school senior who cheered for Leon last year, tried out for the 2016-17 squad and was not selected. According to the story, she fell twice during the tumbling portion of the tryouts. The song says it best: you can’t always get what you want.

Track Three: Mama’s Not Happy (Daddy Either)

In Faint, Linkin Park sings, “Don’t turn your back on me I won’t be ignored.” By escalating the issue and filing a complaint with Leon County Schools, this student and her family have made it clear they have not accepted the decision of the tryout panel.

Track Four: To Reiterate, Mama’s Not Happy (Daddy Either)

Sorry y’all, there are just too many great “angry rock songs” to stop at one. Some of the lyrics of this one just seem so custom-made for the situation:

  • I am fueled by all forms of failure (note: not saying this kid is a failure in general, but in this case of the tryout, she failed to make the team)
  • I’ll take what’s mine
  • The reasons why you passed me by/Will always hold you down

These parents (and this student) want her on the team even though she did not meet the criteria to make it. They want to take “what is hers” (even though it isn’t).

Track Five: Teaching Your Child to Accept Disappointment is One of Parenting’s Hardest Responsibilities

Truth: One of the reasons I have yet to comment publicly on this story is the fear that one of my children’s former teachers will call me out. I have done my FAIR SHARE of helicoptering and trying to shield my children from disappointment. All I can say is we grow, learn, and evolve as parents. Yes, I complained when my son didn’t get recognized in the first grade science fair (I know … this was so much more about my hurt feelings than his). Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t!

But I do know that taking this particular route, especially if the parents complained to the district office before trying to address via the coach and principal (I can’t confirm who they talked to (if anyone) before going to the district), when by all accounts their child simply did not qualify, doesn’t teach their child anything about accepting the outcome and moving on.

Teaching the child well in this situation, in my opinion, would involve a) providing support at a time of disappointment, b) exploring (if the student is open to it) what she could have done differently in order for this to be a growth experience, and c) taking the high road (not badmouthing the students who DID make it, remaining civil to the coach, supporting the school, etc.).

Track Six: Is This Entire Generation an Entitled Mess?

SO many of the comments, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, were some variation of “that sense of entitlement is the problem.” There’s a whole song about that, so of course it needs to be part of this post! (The song is really about some other issues besides the cheerleading tryout issue, but how could I not include a song called “Entitled”?). Relevant lyrics:

  • It’s not all about you
  • You’re not entitled to anything
  • You actually believe the world owes you somethin’
  • You’re not entitled to anything. You’re just like me.
  • The world owes you nothin’

Track Seven: We May Disagree But We Still Must Lean on Each Other

I don’t want to close out this playlist on the “entitled” concept. I had some difficulty choosing a song to represent how the student involved in this situation is STILL a child deserving of our compassion and nurturing. Her parents are STILL community members and are part of the fabric of who we are as a community, making Tallahassee the wonderful place it is. We still have to lean on each other.

As I have thought about this post this week, I reminisced about people who were honest with me about situations with my children, even when I was strident or accusatory. About Judy Kuhnle, who sent a patiently worded email explaining the qualities a gymnast needed to move on to the next level (strength, flexibility, and teachability). About Kelly Tucker who knew my kid well and picked up the phone to talk with me personally when I had suggested he do a tennis activity he was in no way ready for (which is what she told me — it was pretty easy to digest since I knew she was coming from a place of concern). About all the other people in this town who have been part of educating, training, and nurturing my kids (and, concurrently, me as a parent).

If we all go off to our separate corners, hurling accusations at one another, it’s unlikely that situations will be resolved positively and it’s highly likely that the students involved will learn nothing that will help them navigate a world that is, to be frank, often ugly, unyielding, and certainly not generous in delivering on outcomes we haven’t earned.

And fortunately, “trying out” to be a caring community member is as easy as cheering each other on, in victory AND defeat.

NOTE: In a conversation with Amanda Curcio, the reporter who produced the original story, she clarified the statement, “She didn’t initially make the varsity team last year…” The clarification: “The girl was not originally selected last year to be a cheerleader. But her parents made a similar complaint and [she] was put on the team – after not making it at the tryouts. The head coach who is there now was hired after this…”

Cheerleader Tryout Protest

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

8 thoughts on “But I Don’t Want My Kid to Lose!

  1. My daughter was a cheerleader at Leon. I know the work that went into her getting on the squad. I also know that the cheer world can be very petty. If the school board allows this girl on the squad the girls and more so the other cheer parents will not make it easy for her. I believe her parents are not doing her any favors by not using this as a life lesson. Just my two cents

    • Your two cents are welcome! I know it’s a rigorous process (as it should be). It will be interesting to see how it all resolves. I think the more that gets decided at the school level (as opposed to escalating through district layers, etc.) the better for everyone.

  2. I just had another thought about this. If the girl in question did indeed mess up her tryout then I (as a cheermom) would be worried that she would injure my child. This is a team sport. In middle school a girl broke my daughter’s nose because she could not hold herself in the air correctly. My kid had to catch her so the flyer was not hurt. At Leon she hurt her wrist saving a girl that had no business in the air.

    • Cheerleading is an activity that requires much care, proper safety, and attention to technique (and preparedness on the part of the cheerleader). I assume (but don’t know since I wasn’t there) that these factors are part of the selection criteria.

  3. Love the songs that accentuate your comments. I am with Crosby Still Nash and Young, teach them well. Life in her future can not be all acceptance even if we wish it could and try to force it!

    • I had SO MUCH FUN choosing the songs (especially the angry rock songs — I mean some of them did indeed sound VERY VERY ANGRY!). And I do wholeheartedly feel that Teach The Children is the most important one of them all (along with Lean on Me). Although I agree in content with many of the hundreds of comments, ultimately I live in this child’s / parent’s community and a behind the screen comment doesn’t do anything to make a difference in the situation (besides indicating the general public opinion).

  4. I agree Paula. We’ve all done things like that for our children that we look back at and cringe. What we learned from that mistake was that we weren’t doing our child any favors and wasn’t teaching them anything. I think though, most of us learned when our children were in elementary school and not a senior in high school.

    • I can’t imagine that any of us who are parents haven’t grappled with this dilemma in some way. I keep thinking of my cheerleading coach, an irascible and firm lady with quite the unique personality, and how she made me wait an entire quarter of school (which seemed like an ETERNITY) to get my name on my cheerleader jacket because I was 15 minutes late to a game once (to the pregame warmup, not the game). It was SO ANNOYING but that was her rule and it made me 500% more grateful to get my name on that jacket eventually. It’s a bit of a side issue to the one I wrote about but that woman is in my mind OFTEN. She made an impact and it certainly wasn’t because she ever gave in to anything. AT ALL. 🙂

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