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'It’s a risk we’re willing to take for our athletes and our students'

Zoe Greszler • Sep 19, 2018 at 9:00 AM

WILLARD — In a decision that garnered attention across northern Ohio, the Willard City Schools cheerleading squad will be allowed to continue performing stunting routines. However, a few more restrictions will be placed on the activity from here onward. 

“We’re ecstatic,” head coach Marissa DeWitt said. “We’re totally fine with (the restrictions). We’re just excited to be doing what we’ve been doing.”

A unanimous vote during Tuesday’s special school board meeting means the high school cheerleaders will be allowed to stunt — despite pressure from insurance companies to discontinue the activity. Should an accident occur while the athletes are performing a stunt, the penalty could triple the district’s insurance rates, treasurer Cindy Shoup said at last week’s regular board meeting. 

The board decided the benefits to the team were worth the risk. The decision comes with five restrictions though.

Stunting will need to be approved by Superintendent Jeff Ritz prior to each event, on a case-by-case basis. Ritz said he only plans on allowing it twice a year — as part of the annual homecoming festivities and at one non-league basketball game. 

The cheerleading advisers will be required to maintain training on the proper stunting techniques and safety protocol, something DeWitt said they were already certified in and will re-certify in this year. 

The third and fourth conditions of approval were continuations of previous requirements — parents and cheerleaders must submit a signed liability waiver and an insurance waiver form.

Finally, cheerleaders will not be allowed to perform basket tosses, a stunt involving four cheerleaders throwing another, dubbed the “flyer,” into the air, performing a jump or stunt, and then catching her again in a basket-like style. 

“Our goal has always been safety and preparing them in hopes that they could move on to the next level,” assistant coach Lisa Fried said. “This means they can continue to show that they are athletic to their peers. This is their chance to shine.”

DeWitt said while awaiting the final decision, the squad had to miss some stunting practice. However, she said “so long as they feel they’re ready,” the team will be stunting during the homecoming performance.

“I think it’s great for the cheerleaders,” board president Chris Rothhaar said.

“We got a lot of responses from the cheerleaders and you can just tell how big of a passion this is for them. Like we said before — they don’t get the trophies or those accolades, so this gives them the opportunity to validate in front of their peers that their passion, they do take it seriously and they are athletes too.”

Ritz said the board “had the same goal” of supporting the students, but minding safety. He said the board made a “conservative risk” in benefit of the students.

Rothhaar agreed.

“Of course (the risks are) a concern; that’s why we’re asking the advisers to take on the certification course, but they have the proper precautions that they take and we try to keep it in a controlled situation. It is a risk, but it’s a risk we’re willing to take for our athletes and our students.”

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