Competitive cheerleading and dance begin during the fall in conjunction with football and move into the winter when teams begin competing and working towards conference and state championships while also cheering at basketball games.
This winter, there will be no competitions held for either cheer or dance in Connecticut.
The CIAC announced Thursday that both competitive cheer and dance will not have winter seasons because they are considered high-risk activities according to the state of Connecticut Department of Health.
“Based on today’s ruling from the CIAC, we have to adjust our thinking. We will have to move away from any thought of a competition experience, to finishing our season on a positive note,” Newtown cheer coach Sue Bridges said. “We completely respect the decisions made by the CIAC, we understand they were difficult decisions to make (but) the safety of our athletes and their families is always at the forefront of all decisions made.”
The CIAC offers eight winter sports: boys and girls basketball, boys hockey and gymnastics are categorized as moderate risk while boys swimming and diving is low risk. Wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer are classified as high risk.
According to the CIAC, wrestling, competitive cheer and competitive dance can only conduct small-group conditioning and non-contact skill building. The state department of health classifies them higher risk for transmitting droplets, and therefore doesn’t allow those sports.
Danbury cheerleading coach Joann Tatarzycki said she does not feel cheer belongs in the high-risk group and that competitions can be held.
“I absolutely believe that cheer teams can compete safely,” Tatarzycki said. “Our routines are two minutes and 30 seconds long, of which maybe 1 minute would be contact. During the fall season, many teams practiced in masks and had no issues whatsoever. Many states are allowing their cheer teams to compete with masks and without masks for that 2:30. My team participated in a virtual competition in the fall, we wore masks and had no issues. I believe virtual competitions are the safest at the moment, but honestly cheer teams could go into a facility fully prepared, warm up, perform and be out in 15 minutes. I feel it is so important for us to at least try and have virtual competitions. The news today from the CIAC is not good. I do feel we have options but unfortunately we seem to be at the mercy of the DPH recommendations.”
The low-risk sports of sideline cheer (no stunting, lifts, or tumbling) and exhibition dance (no lifts, stunting, or tumbling) may continue, provided participants wear masks and formations maintain six feet of distance between athletes, according to the CIAC.
The rule to allow cheerleaders at basketball games but not allow them to compete, does not make much sense to coaches.
“I find it ironic that we will be on the sidelines of a basketball game where they have very close contact and much more chance of spreading respiratory droplets than if we performed a stunt or tumbled,” Tatarzycki said. “The logic just does not make sense to me or many of the coaches in the state. The seniors are devastated and deserve us to try. They already missed some postseason events from last year and a lot of fall events that normally take place. I am going to keep exploring options with my AD and I hope to get some kind of season for these girls.”
While teams began training in the fall with new rules in terms of how many athletes can participate at a time and limits on what could be done, there were no football games to cheer at and now, the winter competition season is canceled, leaving athletes in a perpetual state of practice.
Coaches argue that since cheer was able to follow protocols in the fall, they should have the chance to compete in the winter.
“We were wearing a mask the entire fall season, for all practices and games and had no issues following the protocols,” Bridges said. “I believe when cheer was categorized as high risk on April 20th, it was the thinking that we could not safely do what we need to do in a mask. If anyone watched ‘Cheer Athletics’ perform on ‘Americas Got Talent,’ they proved that cheer can be done safely in a mask.”