By ERIN ROLL
The Montclair High School cheerleading squad came before the Montclair Board of Education Wednesday night urging the district to reinstate the school’s head cheer coach.
In a prepared statement, squad member Nafia Hampton told the board that the squad had learned, one day before Thanksgiving, that Janice Jenkins had been discharged as the head coach.
“The cheerleaders love and respect Coach Janice,” Hampton said, adding that under Jenkins’s leadership, the squad had improved greatly. “Coach Janice has served as a nurturing guide to all of us, and has encouraged us to be leaders.”
Without Jenkins, she said, the squad has been unable to start preparing for the winter sports season.
The squad members said they felt the school administration and athletic department did not view cheerleading with the same level of prestige as other school sports. This extended to the squad not getting as much funding from the school as other sports, the squad said. Another concern was that the team did not have anyone to supervise them between the time school ended and the 4 p.m. start of practice time; the members said the squad could not use the gym during that time because it was in use by other teams.
“We get the end of the stick all the time,” said squad member Sania Scott. She noted that the team practiced in all weather, but did not get the same benefits that other teams had, including after-school study hall. She added that Jenkins was a mother figure to the team.
The board would not comment on the circumstances behind Jenkins not returning as coach, due to regulations against discussing personnel matters in public. However, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said she would be meeting with the squad again in a few days to continue discussing the matter. She also said she would be emailing the squad’s captain later that evening.
Cheerleading, as a fall and winter sport, falls under the aegis of the athletics department. The current athletic director is Dr. Patrick Scarpello, who was appointed in November 2017.
Lori Montague is a squad parent whose daughter has been cheering for four years. She said Jenkins had assumed leadership of the squad during a difficult time, and that her presence was greatly missed.
“I challenge you all to really listen to what the students are saying to you,” Montague told the board. “You’re doing a disservice this evening, if you vote on replacing their coach.”
In response, Board President Laura Hertzog emphasized that the board would not be voting on any replacements for the head cheer coach that evening. Johnson concurred that there was no recommendation before the board at that time on a new coach.
Montague said an email was sent out the day before Thanksgiving announcing that the school was searching for a new coach. No information was given on why Jenkins was no longer head coach, she said.
The athletics page on the MHS website mentions that a head cheer coach was still to be determined as of Dec. 5.
Montague also alleged that the squad is not allowed to use the field house at Woodman Field for practices and physical therapy, the way other athletic teams are.
With no coach, she said, the squad’s practice and competition schedule are in disarray, which was especially problematic since tryouts for winter sports were coming up.
Petal Robertson, the president of the Montclair Education Association, praised the squad for speaking out, and she mentioned that she herself had served as a cheerleading coach. “It makes me so proud to see you stand up and advocate for yourselves.”
Later in the meeting, board member Anne Mernin said she found the news troubling.
“One thing that really struck me and bothered me was, one of the students mentioned that their one competition of the year, there was less than a handful of kids that showed up,” Mernin said. She said she hoped the coaches of other athletic teams, the ones whom the cheerleaders cheered for, would attend the cheering competitions and show support in return.