Cheerleading mix-up expected to end today

Deirdre Newman

NEWPORT BEACH -- Prospective cheerleaders at Newport Harbor High

School, who have endured an emotional roller coaster over the past month,

will find out today whether they can order their sweaters and pompoms for

the upcoming cheer season.

The Newport Harbor cheerleading community has been torn apart by mixed

signals from Principal Michael Vossen as to how many girls will be

allowed to participate.

After listening to the girls Monday, Vossen said he will announce this

afternoon how many girls will earn coveted spots on the school's two


As the decision nears, Vossen continues to incur the wrath of many

cheerleaders and some parents who charge him with repeatedly reneging on

his word -- the latest instance being his change of heart in not letting

the cheerleaders vote on who should be on the squad after he reportedly

said he would.

"I'm outraged. He's a liar," said Sherry Blake, whose daughter, Erin,

made the original varsity team.

For the past month, the 16 hopeful cheerleaders have been dangling

while Vossen vacillates between keeping all the girls who tried out on

the team and only allowing the girls who made it the first time to


The cheerleading saga started in late November, when the cheerleading

rosters were posted and allegations spread about judging inconsistencies.

Cheer coach Lisa Callahan, who has taught the girls their jumps and

splits for the past 13 years, said she witnessed irregularities in the

judging that distorted the final results. She also blames cheer advisor

Jennifer Cilderman for altering the final scores by providing her input,

which Callahan says the cheer advisor is not supposed to do.

Vossen agreed with Callahan -- as did Assistant Supt. Jaime

Castellanos -- that the best resolution would be to let all the girls who

tried out be on the team. He then sent out a letter saying so on Dec. 12.

Some parents of the girls who made the original cut complained to the

district that the school had to abide by the rules in the cheerleading

handbook, which states that all judging decisions are final. Parents and

students signed a contract agreeing to the judges' decision before the


The complaint set in motion an ad hoc committee that recommended

holding a second set of tryouts for the girls who didn't make it the

first time to fill two new spots on the varsity squad and two on the

junior varsity squad.

But on Dec. 21, when Vossen announced this suggestion to the parents

of the girls who didn't make it the first time, they made such emotional

pleas that he agreed to let the girls circulate a petition and vote on

the issue, according to parents and cheerleaders who were at the meeting.

On Dec. 28, however, Vossen sent out another letter saying he would

not authorize a petition or a vote, but that the cheerleaders would be

allowed to provide him with their input.

"I was really upset because the girls who put together the petition

got 28 signatures, but when the letter came out they stopped and all they

needed was 32," said Jennifer Nahin, who did not make the original

varsity squad.

Nahin tried to talk to Vossen on Monday to let him know how

disappointed she was in his indecisiveness, but she couldn't get an

appointment to see him.

After waiting all day, Cara Buffalini, who also did not make the

original varsity squad, finally did get a chance to talk with Vossen.

"I basically told him that it's not cool that he dangled it in front

of our faces," Cara said, adding that she understands the tough position

Vossen is in.

Castellanos said that while Vossen's decision likely won't please

everyone, it will hopefully bring some closure to a controversy that

escalated into a crisis of colossal proportion.

"He's going to get some people who are OK with [his decision] and some

who aren't -- that's what happens when you're a principal," Castellanos

said. "The main thing right now is to make a decision, live with it and

move on."

Some parents have already made up their minds.

Blake said after Vossen announces his decision, she will file a

complaint with the district about the way the school administration

handled the ordeal.

"I want to know who's in charge here -- the [parents] who wrote the

complaint or the principal. The principal has no backbone and,

unfortunately, it's not just the parents who are upset -- it's affecting

the kids directly. In my opinion, it's child abuse," Blake said.

* Deirdre Newman covers education. She may be reached at (949)

574-4221 or by e-mail at o7 deirdre.newman@latimes.comf7 .

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