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Parent Accuses Coach of Rigging School's Cheerleading Tryouts

Courts: Antelope Valley girl's beauty contest win is cited as reason for alleged bias.

September 27, 2002|RICHARD FAUSSET | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the suburbs of the Mojave Desert, two All-American pastimes have historically generated passionate intensity: teenage beauty contests and high school football.

So when local school board member Al Beattie learned that the latest legal challenge facing the Antelope Valley Union High School District involved both tiaras and pompoms, he was hardly shocked.

In documents filed this month in Los Angeles Superior Court, a parent contends her daughter was not selected for the Quartz Hill High School cheerleading squad by a coach who was upset the girl had won a local beauty pageant. The parent wants the coach disciplined or fired, according to the documents.

The complaint, filed by parent Liz Smith, accuses coach Tammy Stewart of rigging tryouts in the spring and denying Smith's daughter, Kelly, now in her senior year, a spot on the squad. Stewart, the complaint contends, was angry a friend's daughter had lost to Kelly in the 2001 Miss Quartz Hill pageant.

After Kelly won the pageant, the complaint contends, Stewart "began a concerted effort to embarrass, harass and ridicule" her. Then, when yearly tryouts rolled around, Stewart did not give Kelly credit for complex tumbling moves she performed, and "manipulated the scoring ... to the point where [Kelly] was not selected," according to the complaint.

At Quartz Hill High, girls land one of 18 coveted varsity cheerleading spots the same way they win the title of Miss Quartz Hill, or any of the other 16 "community queens" contests in the high desert: by impressing a panel of judges.

"When you don't win, you're never happy," Beattie said. "I remember at one point my daughter ran for Miss Palmdale. I recall we were a little miffed at the contest [when she lost]."

In Smith's case, however, Beattie said the district has found no evidence the tryouts were judged improperly. Quartz Hill High Principal Barbara Willibrand conducted a thorough investigation of the judging, Beattie said, and the board reviewed the matter again in August at Smith's request.

"The process appeared to be open and fair, as far as we could determine," Beattie said. "From our review of it, there was no prejudice issued against her."

Beattie said he learned that Kelly, who had been a Quartz Hill cheerleader for three years, received poor marks because she interrupted her audition to fix a malfunctioning music track--even though she had been told to perform through any technical glitches.

Liz Smith declined to comment Thursday, and Stewart could not be reached for comment. A lawyer for the school district also declined to comment.

"If she wasn't allowed to take some kind of math class, I would have leaned more toward the child than the school," Beattie said. "But there's a selection process. I remember being cut from the baseball team in high school, and I didn't like it at all."

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