ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County cheerleaders and band members are taking the field again for the first time in months after the school district announced they could participate in football games again.
Students and families protested earlier this month after Orange County Public Schools initially said they couldn’t take part in the games. The district’s plans called for all pep rallies, band performances and other staples of Friday night football to be pretaped and played over the loudspeakers and scoreboards during games to help keep attendance down.
But now West Orange High School senior and varsity cheerleader Elisabeth Sirois finally got the news she waited for when the district announced they could return to the field during football games.
“I probably could have cried. I was so excited,” she said.
The high school football season started last week. Cheerleaders and the band were not allowed to perform during the first games.
Sirious said they can participate safely.
“There’s enough track for all of us to stand six feet apart and we tumble. We’re still a whole mat and the mats are about six feet, so we can tumble,” Sirios said. “We’d be fine. We can cheer, we just wouldn’t stunt.”
School officials said cheerleaders, the band, dancers and ROTC can participate in the games. The district said guidelines are in place to keep everyone safe, including practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
Students won’t travel for away games. They will only perform at home games.
Scott Howat, a spokesperson for OCPS, is not calling this a reversal. Instead he said school officials wanted to see how the first week of games went before allowing the band and cheerleaders to join the football team under the Friday night lights.
“I think we were taking it methodically and strategically and making sure that we’re creating safe environments and based on what we saw last Thursday, we think that it’s time those participants join the football team,” Howat said.
Sirois won’t get to cheer during Friday’s game. The district closed West Orange High School this week due to COVID-19 cases on campus. Instead, the football game will be played at Boone High School.
But her mother, Rose Sirois, said she is glad she is getting to cheer this year.
“There’s not as many games, but that’s OK. Whatever we can do we’re just happy we can do,” Rose Sirios said. “We’re just happy that they get the chance to be there and participate in any way that they can. We’re really excited that they get to do this.”
District officials said right now there are no plans to test cheerleaders and band members, like they’re doing with the football teams, but that could change. The district adds it will be up to the schools to make sure everyone at the football games are following safety guidelines.