The Mt. Pleasant High School Competition Cheer Team is vying for a spot for their state championship banners on the wall of the high school gymnasium alongside other Mt. Pleasant state championship-winning teams.
The decision to install athletic recognition signage and banners in the high school was made just this past February and approved unanimously by the board. Banners were not originally displayed in the gym because when it was built in 1999, administrators wanted to keep “a clean look” and not hang athletic banners, Superintendent John Henriksen said.
“Typically, we wouldn’t have a board deciding something like this, but it stirs a lot of emotion and a lot of passion,” Henriksen said. “That’s exactly why I left it to the board. That’s the ultimate decision-making authority.”
During an earlier work session in January, the board came to a consensus that they would recognize state champions and state runner-ups in team sports that were sanctioned by the IHSAA and the Iowa Girls Athletic Union.
While cheer is not sanctioned by IHSAA, they have supported cheer since 1983, and have a cheer liaison at the IHSAA office.
The cheerleaders, matching in their team jackets, sat in the front row facing the school board in the high school media center during a regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 8. Their parents gathered in the back of the media center as parent of a student cheerleader, Darin Stater, delivered a joint statement from the group.
“We have banners honoring great Panther teams from the past, including our state champion basketball, football and track teams,” Stater said in a statement. “We’re glad to have those banners, but there is a glaring omission among them.
“These athletes give their all to represent our school,” he continued. “Let’s show our pride in our Panther Competition Cheer Team by raising a banner to their accomplishments so they can take their rightful place among our other great teams.”
School board President Dave McCoid explained that the cheer team’s state champions banners are not being displayed because cheer is not sanctioned by the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
The original question as to whether or not to display banners arose after the boys’ basketball team won state championship in 2012.
Superintendent John Henriksen said he will include the conversation on the Site Committees agenda during their next meeting on Oct. 25 at 4:30 p.m. The Site Committee will then make a recommendation to the school board.
The trap team is another team whose championship awards are not displayed in the gym because they are not sanctioned by the IHSAA. During the board meeting, the board expressed concern that if one exception was made, the whole decision about what the qualifications are to display banners would have to be reevaluated.
Other teams’ championship banners and awards are displayed around Mt. Pleasant. The track championships are recognized at Mapleleaf Athletic Complex. Bowling awards are displayed at the bowling alley. Awards won by the golf team reside at the Mt. Pleasant Golf and Country Club.
Parents at the school board meeting Monday were frustrated by the boards response, saying that a lot of people probably don’t understand the difference between sideline cheer and competitive cheer.
“We are hopeful that when the site committee looks at what the girls have done and watches the video of what they do when they perform, they will reconsider and allow the girls to put the banners up,” said Nicki Ensminger, mother of a former competitive cheer student.
Ensminger said the students don’t want their banners displayed for special attention, they want to be recognized for their accomplishments and feel that the rest of the school should be proud of those accomplishments as well.
“It’s important to recognize a program that has been one of the most successful in our school district,” cheer coach Nikole Keaster said. “The girls are there to support all the other teams … and we want that recognition in return.”
To be a part of the competitive cheer squad at MPCHS, students have to qualify for the team. It’s a very elite squad, Keaster said. Currently, only one freshman is on the team. On average, students practice six hours a week during the school year and six to 10 hours a week during the summer. Their state tournament is on Nov. 3 this year.
The cheer team also has been invited to perform at the boys’ state championship tournament for the past decade.
The competitive cheer team has state championships from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2012 and most recently in 2013. Their stunt groups won state champions in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
They were runners-up in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.