Paige Peterson, an eighth-grader at South Junior High School, did something this year that she had anticipated for a long time: She tried out for cheerleading.
Paige wouldn't have had that opportunity if a proposed "no cut" cheerleading program had been implemented in junior high schools this year. However, parents and principals struck a compromise that both increases student involvement and retains competition.
Some students recently shared their views on the new junior high selection process, and participants in Lawrence High School cheerleading talked about changes in that program.
Until this year, each junior high school selected 12 to 16 students to serve as cheerleaders. Now as many as 32 students can participate in cheerleading at each school. The cheerleaders are divided into a spring squad and a fall squad of no more than 16 students each.
The junior high school principals had proposed a "no cut" policy to allow any interested student to participate in cheerleading, but some parents and students did not want competition eliminated.
Paige, who was selected as a cheerleader from among the 54 South students who tried out, had mixed feelings about the compromise.
"I agree that the school's getting so big that we should have added some cheerleaders, but not so many. I just think that 32 is totally over what we need," she said. "It's really not that bad, but it's not what I was wanting."
At Central Junior High School, competition was essentially eliminated. Thirty-two students tried out, and 32 students made the cheerleading squad.
Susan Phenix, Central's assistant cheerleading coach, said Central traditionally has had relatively few students try out for cheerleading compared with the other junior high schools. She said about 25 students would try out for the 12 slots that were open each year.
However, now that one boy has made the Central cheerleading team, Phenix thinks those numbers may change.
"I've heard rumblings that there are going to be more boys trying out next year," Phenix said.
Venessa Laing, a ninth-grader at West Junior High School, was selected as a cheerleader from among about 48 students who tried out.
Venessa said she was disappointed with the new policy that says cheerleaders can't wear their uniforms to school on game days. The district now pays for those uniforms.
"I think it helped when I wore my uniform last year because people would say, 'I didn't know we had a game today,'" Venessa said. "I think it's kind of unfair, but I see where they're coming from because they don't want the uniforms ruined during the school day. People could spill something on them."
Changes in cheerleading also have occurred at LHS. The school used to have three varsity cheerleading squads -- red, black and white -- with the red squad identified as the top squad and the black squad identified as the middle squad.
Now the school has the L, H and S squads, and distinctions between the squads have disappeared. Each squad still has eight members.
"There were many times when students on the white squad were given the impression that they were third string," said Cheryl Slack, an LHS cheerleading coach. "We were trying to elevate the respect for cheerleaders. The largest high school in the state should have 24 varsity cheerleaders who are very highly talented."
LHS senior Maggie Randolph, one of the cheerleaders, said she likes the change.
"I think it gives everyone an equal chance to participate," Randolph said.