There are some high school cheerleaders in Cumberland County who are stomping mad. And stomping is at the heart of the issue.
Over the past year, the Cumberland County Schools have had to spend $30,000 to repair aging and damaged bleachers in high school gymnasiums.
A possible culprit in the problem is a common practice among cheerleaders and student cheering sections of banging or stomping on the bleachers to make noise and build enthusiasm.
When informed of the sizeable outlay of money to fix bleachers that may have been damaged by the stomping, interim county school superintendent Tim Kinlaw went to the senior high athletic directors earlier this year and advised them to end the practice of stomping or banging on bleachers.
When Jack Britt senior cheerleader Alexa Solorzano heard about it, she wasn’t pleased.
“If you take that away it’s like taking the ball out of basketball,’’ she said. “They can’t take it away because it’s tradition.’’
Solorzano started a petition online to convince school officials to allow stomping. As of Tuesday evening, Oct. 24, her petition at thepetitionsite.com had over 5,500 digital signatures.
When told about the cost of fixing the bleachers, Solorzano suggested county schools increase the cost of tickets to basketball games by $1 and use that money to repair or if needed replace any aging bleachers.
Vernon Aldridge, student activities director of Cumberland County Schools, said that’s not as easy as it sounds. “Prices are set by conferences,’’ Aldridge said, noting that the county’s 10 senior high schools compete in two different conferences that include non-county schools.
Other problems with stomping and the bleachers were explained in a letter from Donna Fields, director of operations for the Cumberland County Schools, to another cheerleader. Fields noted that damaged bleacher seats are a safety hazard, Aldridge adding that in extreme cases someone could fall through a weakened board to the gym floor.
There are some states, including Georgia and South Carolina, where stomping on the bleachers is banned entirely. Fields said she attended one game where a visiting cheerleading squad was escorted out of the gym for stomping.
As far as options for making noise, the rules of the N.C. High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations limit what cheerleaders can do.
The NCHSAA handbook bans everything but non-electronic megaphones at indoor athletic events. National Federation rules put additional restrictions on when music can be played and on when and what the public address announcer says.
If the end result is no stomping, Solorzano fears many people will be upset.
“There are a lot of cheers that help the basketball players do better,’’ she said. “Cheerleading is just as important as any other sport.’’
PHOTO: Alexa Solorzano