OGDEN -- There will be no cheers or stunt flips to honor the Ogden School District, at least not coming from the 18-member Mount Ogden Junior High Cheer Squad.
When the squad asked the school board's permission to attend summer cheer camp in Salt Lake City, the cheerleaders, mostly ages 13 and 14, were informed that the district does not have cheer squads at the junior high school level.
So the Rams' cheerleaders, in uniform and supported by their costumed counterparts from Ogden High School, showed up at a recent school board meeting to respectfully request permission to exist.
"I've been cheering almost two years now at Mount Ogden Junior High," said Ogden resident Autumn Coates, 14, the team's cheer captain.
"I was really excited to do it this year. Cheering has become my whole life. I really don't think the school board made a good decision."
Jana Coates, Autumn's mother and a teacher in Davis School District, told the Standard-Examiner that Ogden School District is one of very few in the state that does not allow junior high cheerleaders.
"Ogden School District has a really bad reputation for being behind the times and not being responsive to parents. I would like to see it changed so our school district can be up there with everyone else and we don't seem so backward."
The students were allowed to attend the camp as individuals rather than as a group representing Mount Ogden Junior High.
Ken Crawford, OSD director of athletics, said the cheer squad and supporters who spoke at the school board meeting were exercising their right to participate in the school board meeting.
"If the board chooses to make a change, we will move forward and make the adjustments necessary," he said.
Crawford said apparently, Mount Ogden Junior High had a spirit squad two years ago and the adviser did not know turning it into a junior high cheer squad was against district rules.
She set the participation fee at $600, the same amount the district's high school cheerleaders pay for uniform and cheer camp tuition.
At the time, the district was beefing up sports programs at Mount Ogden, Mound Fort and Highland junior high schools after the board's decision that ninth-graders would remain in junior high and move on to high school as sophomores.
"We decided not to have cheer at that moment," said Don Belnap, Ogden School Board president.
"We were phasing in various sports and didn't start with everything all at once. We thought if we weren't going to have a full range of athletics, we would not need cheer to start with."
This spring, when the application for OSD permission to attend cheer camp was submitted after the deadline, board members discussed the fact that Mount Ogden's squad, by existing, failed to comply with district policy.
Board members talked about the potential expense of allowing cheer at the district's three junior highs.
All of Mount Ogden's cheerleaders had been able to fund their own fees, but in the future, if a student applied for and was granted a financial waiver, the district might have to fund that student's fees.
Student safety and district liability in the case of failed stunts was another concern.
The OSD decision was shared earlier this month with cheerleaders, their parents and Mount Ogden Junior High administrators. Crawford informed the girls that:
- They must be a spirit squad, not a cheer squad.
- They can wear the uniforms they bought to cheer only at home games and must cheer without stunts.
- The squad cannot represent Mount Ogden Junior High at outside events, as it did in July's Ogden's Pioneer Day Parade.
- And after this school year, uniforms will have to revert to spirit squad uniforms, which in the past were inexpensive matching shirts and shorts. The spirit uniforms cannot label the wearers as cheerleaders.
Jana Coates was at the meeting when Mount Ogden cheerleaders learned of their spirit squad guidelines.
"We were told the school board was really mad and that we had offended them," she said.
"It seems the school board was more interested in the rules than in looking at the situation. It's been a rough road, and it will be hard for the girls if they are not even allowed to call themselves cheerleaders."
Autumn Coates hopes the board reconsiders.
"I have gotten a lot stronger because of cheerleading," she said. "We usually run three or four laps around our football field, with ankle weights. It builds your strength and your spirit.
"The girls were really upset when they heard the decision, and some of them were crying."
Jana Coates said her daughter's academic achievement has improved since she became a cheerleader because of the discipline she learned.
Cheering also teaches leadership, she said, and adds excitement to sporting events.
"We as a community want our kids to have this opportunity, and our school district needs to provide it, especially when it costs them nothing and when they do support football," Jana Coates said.
Durrell Annis, of Ogden, mother of Isabella, a cheer/spirit team member, said she was pleased with the school board's initial response.
"We wanted to tell the board we didn't know we were doing anything wrong and the parents were blindsided," Annis said.
"These kids do a lot to promote a positive influence at junior highs. I really don't think the board is opposed to the idea. We just need to go through proper channels.
"Letting the group continue as a spirit squad was a nice concession. The board could have put the kabosh on the whole thing."
Belnap said he expects further discussion of the matter.
He said Crawford will talk to the district's junior high principals and ask them to weigh in on whether a cheer program would be beneficial to their schools.