La Serna High School's cheer and song team poses for a group photo. (Photo courtesy of La Serna High School)
Mission Viejo High School

California schools excluded from Cheer Competitions on Sundays

The average sports fan might not know it, but the world of competitive cheerleading is ultra-competitive and can rival basketball or football in intensity, while still flying under the radar.

In 2018, competitive cheer became recognized by the CIF as a sport, which, in theory, should have clarified and simplified what teams can and cannot do throughout the season.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the CIF “No Sunday Play” rule has created a number of obstacles for California cheer teams by restricting their competition on Sundays. The National High School Cheerleading Competition, the most important cheer event in the United States, takes place in Orlando, Florida from Friday to Sunday, putting California teams at an extreme disadvantage.

California is known as a powerhouse in the cheerleading world, annually sending over 20 teams to this competition. The NHSCC’s solution to overcome the Sunday rule was to have California teams videotape their performances on Saturday, and present the videos to judges on Sunday in place of a live performance.

Competing through a videotape rather than a live performance puts teams at an extreme disadvantage during high-stakes competitions as judges can watch their videos more than once, able scrutinize their mistakes more than they would normally would.

Elena Klock, head cheer coach of La Serna High School, struggled with this rule worse than almost anyone this year, especially after leading her girls to a third place finish at the 2018 NHSCC. This ranking, along with a variety of other national awards and accomplishments, has solidified Klock as a historically good coach, but the Sunday rule complicated their plans to win in 2019.

La Serna had both their semifinals and finals on Sunday, so they were forced to use one video for both rounds of the competition. The girls were thrown off their game and made three crucial mistakes that Klock insists would never have happened normally. La Serna made it to the finals, but performed poorly with their faulty video.

“The moment of watching us on video was the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen as a coach,” Klock said. “Coaches and kids were crying, to not get that opportunity.”

Hannah Wyhowanec, a senior at La Serna, expressed similar disappointment in having to videotape their performance.

“All the excitement we had was brought back down at finals, because we had the same video. My mom was in tears, because it was my last year and I couldn’t perform like I wanted to,” Wyhowanec said while tearing up.

In addition to teams not performing as well as expected, the requirement of videos created a tangle of logistical issues for the competition, trying to find venues and production crews to film California teams, as well as trying to coordinate with ESPN to air these videos on TV.

Klock and other coaches were angry and frustrated over the NHSCC and the CIF rule, and are now determined to make a change to prevent this disaster from never happening again.

Klock has created a petition to the CIF to “provide a yearly waiver that allows teams to compete in the Sunday Finals of the NHSCC,” with the help of Kelly Pray-McCluskey, the cheer adviser at Brea Olinda High School. The petition has gained traction at a rapid pace, gathering almost 3,000 signatures.

To pass this proposed clause, all athletic directors and principals in the CIF Southern Section will vote in April, and if the majority votes yes, the proposal will be taken to the state on January 31, only a week before the NHSCC.

Pray-McCluskey is frustrated at the disadvantages created by the Sunday rule because cheer teams have less opportunity for recognition than other high school sports, with a more traditional system.

“There is no Maxpreps for cheer,” Pray-McCluskey explained. “It is our job to get schools to understand competitive cheer even if their school doesn’t have it.”

These concerned coaches are trying to make a drastic change in the interest of their athletes, who get exposure to college recruiters from the NHSCC and other national events, giving them opportunities for scholarships, jobs, and even the Olympic Trials.

“When cheer is brought up in CIF meetings, there are laughs and snickers,” Klock said.

Competitive cheer is no joke, and passing Klock’s proposal will help all of California’s teams tremendously, by allowing them to compete fairly in the biggest event of the year. Hopefully, a year from now, Klock, La Serna, and other teams will look back at the 2020 NHSCC with smiles, having been able to compete on Sunday.