Following issues raised across the state as part of an ongoing debate of whether cheerleading stunting is a safe activity at the high-school level, the school board must take a side on whether it will continue to allow the activity. It could face the possibility of tripled insurance rates or discontinue something many students are passionate about in the name of safety and financial security.
“I just want to express how important to the girls this (stunting) is and just how important it is to all of us really,” head cheerleading coach Marisa Flores said.
“We don't have records to set or trophies. This is how the girls prove themselves to their peers. If we could figure out how to do that without having them stunt, I would be open to it. I don't want anyone to be hurt or anyone to get in trouble or sued. I have the best interest of the girls at heart and know how much this means to them.”
The issue was raised at Monday’s board meeting as the board is being required to take an official stand on whether or not it will allow cheerleaders to perform stunts. That includes forming pyramids, levels or performing lifts and jumps when the girls might be tossed the air.
The Sandusky Bay Conference doesn’t allow stunting at any of its league games. However, it is left to up to each individual school to decide whether it will allow stunting during non-league games, pep rallies, parades or other performances.
“I don't like to do them on the sidelines as much because you can't protect the girls as well,” Flores said.
“We’ll do it at a non-league basketball game during halftime with the mats and like at pep assemblies and other performances. We usually only do it about three times a year and it's very organized — everyone knows what's going up at what time. They work so hard to be able to do it.
“We take every precaution that we can. That's very important to us. The girls know and take it very seriously. They know they're not allowed to laugh. There's no time to be silly during that time. It's just strict business (when we’re stunting),” Flores said.
Superintendent Jeff Rtiz said he has “complete confidence” in Flores.
“They have always done a great job at proper techniques, taking all the proper precautions,” he said.
However, Fritz recommended the board consider putting limitations on the type of stunting it would allow, as well as when and where — if it decides to allow the activity at all.
Insurance rates could triple
Unlike most area schools, Willard has continued to stunt — despite the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA)’s precautions and recommendations against it — if the team takes proper precautions, such as using mats and having spotters during each stunt.
The issue now though is being raised by insurance companies. Should an accident occur, Ritz said the outlined rules could leave the district and/or the students with a great financial burden.
“Insurance companies will not pay for medical expenses (if there’s an accident),” he said. “Basically, if an employee gets hurt here, they have worker's comp. If a student gets hurt though, they have to use their own insurance, so we offer a policy for each student that they can choose to get. The medical payments are not covered by the school insurance policy though.”
If an accident occurred while one of the cheerleaders were stunting, Ritz said the district lawyer advised it could be sued for liability and negligence and Willard could expect the insurance policy bill to triple.
“We've gotten it down to $80,000 and if anything at all happens, we can expect that to skyrocket,” treasurer Cynthia Shoup said, referring to what the district currently pays for insurance.
“The insurance company would step in and provide legal council in that case, but that would be it. We would have to show all the ways we weren't negligent. (The district lawyer) said nine times out of 10, you are going to be the loser,” Ritz said, adding that’s not the case with other sports.
‘Any different from playing football’?
Board member Rick Willoughby asked how the risks associated with stunting were “any different from playing football,” which the insurance companies aren’t targeting with the rate-increase threat.
“The way it was explained to me is if we’re playing football, we're both in control of our bodies and what we do. Even if we hit each other, we’re still in control of what we do,” Ritz said.
“But if I could say lift (board member Rod Cok) and throw him up, then while he’s in midair, he's not in control of his body and what he's doing or where he lands,” the superintendent added. “The insurance is fine unless someone sues. It's very hard to disprove negligence (with cheerleading), but with football and all other sports, it's much harder to prove negligence.”
“I hate to limit any of our athletes,” board president Chris Rothhaar said. “This is a very passionate thing for the cheerleaders. They are very passionate and this is their moment. ... I hate asking our student-athletes to be the best they can be, but then holding them back and not letting them do that.”
Making an informed decision
“This whole thing makes me want to puke because unless we get sued; this is (pointless),” board member Marsha Danhoff said. “We’d be taking it away from the girls for no reason, but we can’t know. ... I’d like to look at this more before we make a decision.”
“I just think we need to make a good, informed decision. I would say part of that includes talking about what it takes to get certifications (as a stunt instructor) and asking the girls would you and your parents be willing to sign the waiver of liability and proof of insurance. They either have to accept or decline the insurance we're offering.”
The board tabled the decision until it could have more information and research presented on the matter. Board members said they would consider holding a special meeting before October’s meeting if the information is presented within the next two weeks.
The decision-making process will impact if the cheerleaders are allowed to perform stunts at the homecoming game. Willard will play St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. Sept. 28.