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Cheerleading Squad Picks Decided

School: Newport Harbor High will stick to those selected by judges in November. Some parents threaten to sue.


Newport Harbor High School officials said Tuesday that they have finally decided which girls deserve a spot on the cheerleading squad: Only those who were picked by a panel of judges six weeks ago will be guaranteed a place.

The question of who should be on the team has riveted the town of Newport Beach and been the subject of an increasingly bitter fight among girls and their parents since some began complaining of inconsistencies in judging after the Nov. 29 tryouts.

Earlier in the dispute, Principal Michael Vossen had tried to resolve matters by allowing all 48 girls who had tried out to be on the squad. But on Tuesday, as many would-be cheerleaders dissolved into tears, Vossen said he was going with the original squad of 30 but would hold additional tryouts for four more spots.

Practices, which had been suspended pending the outcome of the fight, will resume today. The tryouts will be held soon.

"This decision is the only fair one they could have come up with," said Michael Johnston, a parent of two cheerleaders who made the original squad. Johnston filed a formal complaint with the district protesting the principal's first solution of putting all the girls on the team. He pointed out that all the girls and their parents agreed in writing before the tryouts to abide by the judges' decision.

Other parents and cheerleaders disagreed.

"It's not right," said Megan Romenello, who did not make the original squad. Megan said she quit her job when she got the happy news in early December that she would be a cheerleader after all. But she said she will not be trying out again.

"I can't go through the process of not making it again," she said. "They've crushed a lot of girls."

Jaime Castellanos, assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Newport Mesa Unified School District, acknowledged that the ups and downs of the process have been painful for many girls.

But if school officials hoped Tuesday's decision would resolve a dispute that has pitted friends against each other and ruined the holidays for many families, they were wrong.

One mother whose daughter made the original squad said she intends to file a complaint with the school district today, protesting the way the administration handled the problem.

"Do you see all these girls crying?" said Sherry Blake, gesturing around her as red-eyed girls collapsed in one another's arms or were led away by their mothers.

Another mother, Annette Kerr, said some parents are considering a lawsuit.

It would not be the first time the composition of the cheerleading squad at the coastal campus ended up in court.

Since a 1994 lawsuit in which the district paid tens of thousands of dollars, the high school has gone to lengths to prevent controversy over cheer tryouts. The judges are professionals from outside the school district who don't know the girls. Just to make sure everything goes smoothly, a certified public accountant tabulates the scores, watched over by a representative from the League of Women Voters.

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