TAMPA — Two Brandon Bears youth football teams and their cheerleaders have been barred from the championship game later this month because the football conference says seven of the 34 cheerleaders performed their routines during a barbecue at the home of an assistant coach.
The impromptu routine made it onto Facebook, where officials with the Tri-County Youth Football and Cheerleading Conference saw it. The cheerleaders performed to music and were wearing their uniforms, which violated a rule about how often players can practice. Extra practice time gives a team, or cheerleading squad, a competitive edge, conference officials said.
In all, about 300 children between 9 and 12 were disqualified from taking part in the championship game, dubbed the conference super bowl, on Nov. 23, said Brian Jones, athletic director for the team and cheerleading squads. There are two Brandon Bears football teams, and both were playing in the conference’s championship games, he said.
The ruling, handed down Saturday, is devastating to the cheerleaders and players, Jones said. He said one boy was to have his mother from Hawaii here when his team was to have played in the title game.
“It might have been the only chance she would have had to see him play,” Jones said.
The team is appealing, he said.
One Brandon Bears team plays in the midget level and includes players 9 and 10 years old. The junior varsity team includes players who are 11 and 12. The one cheerleading squad is made up of 11- and 12-year-old girls.
Girls that age, Jones said, “are cheering constantly. They cheer in cars. They cheer in the shower. They cheer when they walk around a store. They’re going to cheer.”
Keeping them from doing their routines whenever a few gather is nearly impossible, he said, and that’s what happened during a barbecue hosted by an assistant cheering coach on Nov. 2. Someone turned on the music and seven cheerleaders began to cheer.
They were in uniform, Jones said, because they had just returned from a cheering competition.
The Brandon Bears cheering squad has gone to four independent cheering competitions and won every time, Jones said. “They’ve won three grand championships.”
He suspected there might be more to the banning than just the Facebook video, but he can’t figure out what it could be. He said the organization has no prior rules violations.
“The only problem we’ve had is with loud fans on the sidelines,” he said, “and we’ve always tried to control that.”
Both the Brandon Bears teams have 10-0 regular season records and both have won two post-season games.
“We’re trying to tell the kids to keep their heads up,” Jones said, “that we’re doing everything we can to get us back into that game.”
If the ruling stands, he said, team officials will try to arrange a game between the Bears teams and the teams they were to have played in the championships.
“But they know it’s not the super bowl,” he said. “They’re all pretty devastated.”
He said the video was made on Nov. 2 and that he got a call on Saturday, during halftime of a game he was attending in Wesley Chapel, telling him that the board was on the verge of banning the Brandon Bears and that he needed to get to the meeting as soon as possible.
He immediately drove to the board meeting in Dover and was told of the video and the rules violation.
Jones felt bad for the cheerleaders, he said, but initially didn’t feel it would impact the football teams.
“I was breathing a sigh of relief,” he said. That’s when conference officials told him the violation would mean both teams would be out of the championship game as well as the cheering squad.
The Brandon Bears organization also was fined $2,500.
A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
A statement issued Monday by conference President Greg Stallings said the ban was passed unanimously by all 14 members of the board “in a painstaking rules meeting to make sure league administrators understood the rule in its entirety because of its impact on the kids.
“While the practice rule may be viewed as petty by some, we are very serious about teams gaining a competitive advantage outside the approved practice time,” the statement said. “The penalty for violating the rule is removal of the entire organization from post season play for football and cheerleading.
“The Brandon Bears have been found in violation of the (conference) practice rule by conducting a practice at a home of a coach outside the approved practice parameters.”
Under the rules, the statement said, “practice is a gathering of a team or individuals to exercise or study football or cheerleading.”
Stallings, in a subsequent email, said the conference applied the rules as written.
“The executive board has a duty to other member organizations to apply the rules as written,” he said. “This rule that is considered harsh was approved by all in the conference in a 14-0 vote.’’ Jones doesn’t hold much hope of overturning the ruling.
“I don’t think it’s likely,” he said, though he hopes all this can be ironed out.
On the conference’s website is this mission statement:
“The ultimate purpose of this association shall be to provide a unified youth sports program with a major emphasis on the fun and enjoyment for all youth interested in playing and developing football and cheerleading skills. Tri-County Youth Football and Cheering Conference shall be known as the association ‘Where Youth Come First.’ ”