April 9 vote could allow for exception to CIF’s no Sunday play policy
If approved, the Sunny Hills cheer team as well as all other California squads would be allowed to compete at national championship events on a Sunday -- what is normally a day of rest for all CIF teams. (Photo by Accolade photographer Annie Choi)

A Sunny Hills alumna is among a trio of Southern California cheer coaches that has organized a petition asking the California Interscholastic Federation [CIF] to change its policy restricting teams from competing on Sundays.

Section 500 M. of the CIF bylaws states: “In order to provide at least one (1) day of respite from involvement in interscholastic athletics each week, no interscholastic games or practices of any kind are to be held on Sunday.”

The only exception would be for religious reasons — Jewish schools that honor Saturdays as a day of rest could file for a waiver to play on Sundays, according to the CIF bylaw.

As an English teacher and head cheer coach at La Serna High School in Whittier, Elena Klock, Class of 1993, teamed up in early September 2018 with Brea Olinda High School’s head cheer coach, Kelly Pray-McCluskey, and Los Alamitos High School’s head cheer coach, Cheryl Hamocon-Vuong, to create the petition drive to change Section 500 M on the petitions.moveon.org website.

“The California cheer teams would like to petition CIF … to provide a yearly waiver that allows teams to compete in the Sunday Finals of the National High School Cheerleading Championships [in Florida],” the petition states. “Of the 51 states there are 35 states represented at the [Florida competition]; therefore it gives traditional competitive cheer the closest thing to a ranking system that is similar to Max Preps for other sports.”

As of Thursday, the site has received 2,860 signed responses with moveon.org’s listed goal of 3,000.

“I’m really proud that we had so much support for our cause,” said Klock, whose name appears on the website as the petition’s author. “It’s because of the petition that we were able to get the word out and received the publicity from the newspapers and other media.”

UPCOMING VOTE

Meanwhile, the three cheer coaches are awaiting an April 9 vote among league representatives in CIF’s Southern Section on a proposal to add an exception clause to the no Sunday play rule.

Klock said Brea Olinda’s athletics director Jill Matyuch, a CIF Southern Section executive committee member, drafted a measure that states: “Exception: In the sport of Traditional Competitive Cheer – only those schools that participate in a national-level cheer competition … may have a one-time exemption for that event once per year, provided approval from the CIF-SS office is granted.”

The measure is approved through a simple majority, Klock said.

If passed, it will go on to the CIF executive committee for a vote in October; if approved, the proposal then will come to a decision at the CIF state level in January 2020, a month before the Florida national cheer competition, she said.

Klock said it hasn’t been easy to find support for her cause from school officials statewide.

“When cheer is brought up in meetings, there are laughs and snickers,” she said. “The people that influence the sport don’t really know anything about it.”

Klock also explained that many school officials don’t see why they should vote in favor of the bill when their schools – like at Sunny Hills – are not yet at the national level like Klock’s program at La Serna.

“It seems a little silly that athletes wouldn’t be able to perform on the national stage,” principal Allen Whitten said. “So yeah, I would definitely support [the petition].”

Sunny Hills athletics director Jon Caffrey said he also plans to vote in favor of the exception, though the proposal would only get a final “yes” vote if a majority of the Freeway League athletics directors and principals agree to it.

If it’s a tie, that would mean an “abstain” vote from the Freeway League, Caffrey said.

“I agree with the rationale of all of this,” he said. “I believe the spirit behind adding cheer as a competitive varsity sport was to give those athletes an opportunity, like all our other athletes, to show their skills.

“The unfortunate side of this is that because of the amount of teams and the facilities needed to run large competitions, there is no other option than to allow them to compete on Sundays,” he said.

However, Caffrey hopes that each athletics department will find a way to still give cheer squads a day off during the week of the Florida national competition so that they are in essence still following the CIF bylaw.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

Cheer coaches only started facing this no Sunday play issue two years ago when the sport fell under the umbrella of CIF. Though CIF agreed to a waiver of this policy for cheer in the 2017-2018 school year, it was not so amenable this school year.

That left any California cheer team who qualified to compete at the final day of the National High School Cheerleading Championships in Florida last month to have to video record its performance to be judged instead of performing live on Sunday.

And that’s what happened to Klock’s cheerleaders. What’s worse was that their Sunday rounds ended up being a semi and finals ones for judges to watch – on video instead of live, Klock said.

“I’ve coached cheer for 15 years. The moment of watching those tapes was the most difficult thing I’ve had to do as a coach,” said Klock, who took her squad in 2018 to a third-place showing but placed 18th this year. “This was their moment. For them to not be able to compete was heartbreaking for our athletes.”

Though some might wonder why California cheer coaches don’t just find another national tournament to compete in that doesn’t require Sunday performances, Klock said the Florida one gets aired on TV networks like ESPN.

“This national competition gives us the exposure cheer is usually not able to get. It opens the door for scholarships and even future careers for our athletes,” she said. “By not letting us compete [live on Sundays], they are inadvertently closing the door for these opportunities for athletes.”

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