New London, NC – High school cheerleaders in two different states have found themselves in a controversial national spotlight after they used pro-Trump signage at their schools’ football games.
At North Stanly High School in North Carolina, the cheerleading squad displayed a banner at an August football game that read “Trump 2020: Make America Great Again,” The Washington Post reported.
Cheerleaders and other students posed for pictures with the banner, and those pictures were shared on social media.
The pictures caught the eye of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and shortly thereafter, the entire cheerleading squad was placed on probation, The Washington Post reported.
In the meantime, cheerleaders at Lake Hamilton High School in Pearcy, Arkansas used President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan to make a play on words for a football banner on Friday.
“Make American Great Again, Trump The Leopards,” the banner read.
Arkansas State Senator Joyce Elliott, a Democrat, took to Twitter and posted a rant along with the offending picture before she even knew which school was featured in it.
“If this is a public school, this is totally inappropriate. If it’s a private school, it’s poor judgment. We are all entitled to our politics of choice but not to using public entities to advance our politics,” Elliott posted.
Not everybody in Arkansas got angry about the football signage.
“Chill out, it’s funny. It’s a play on words. God forbid kids use political slogans to make a joke about beating a team in football,” Republican Arkansas State Representative Aaron Pilkington replied to Elliott’s tweet.
The Lake Hamilton School District told KATV that the banner wasn’t intended as a political statement, and the Arkansas cheerleaders didn’t get the hammer like their counterparts in North Carolina.
But the school district also said they have taken steps to make sure future athletics banners don’t mention political or controversial issues.
The controversy in North Carolina isn’t over and has caught the eye of Washington, The Washington Post reported.
U.S. Representative Richard Hudson (R-North Carolina) sent a letter to the athletic association that suspended the cheerleaders that said he was “appalled” by the violation of the girls’ First Amendment rights.
Hudson also asked to see what specific rule the cheerleaders had violated, according to The Washington Post.
North Carolina High School Athletic Association Commissioner Marilyn Que Tucker released a statement that said the probation wasn’t punishment.
“It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior that could bring additional sanctions, including penalties such as a fine or suspensions, should infractions persist,” Que Tucker said. “By NCHSAA Handbook Policy, probation may last for a period of up to one year. In the incidence concerned, no opportunities for participation were limited.”
A spokeswoman for the school district said that the school has been receiving threats from people on both sides of the issue via telephone and social media, The Washington Post reported.
Hope Miller, the administrative assistant to the superintendent of the Stanly County Schools, said that people have misunderstood because no students have been suspended nor have any of the cheerleaders missed a game.
She said that “probation” wasn’t the right word for the warning the athletic association had given.
“They have all participated in every event since,” Miller said.
She said the school district told the girls not to use that sign again, but they have not otherwise been subjected to any discipline as a result of the entire debacle, The Washington Post reported.
A free-speech rally is planned for Friday across from North Stanly High School, and almost 200 people had indicated they planned to attend on the event’s Facebook page as of Wednesday afternoon.
More than a thousand more people have also expressed interest in supporting the protest, The Washington Post reported.
Numerous tweets have been sent to President Trump asking him to intervene on behalf of the cheerleaders.