That most joyful of high school activities recently became less than cheerful for some members of the Cleburne High School varsity cheerleading squad.

Of the seven cheerleaders, five have been removed from the squad following an incident during Cleburne’s Jan. 13 basketball game against Stephenville, according to Principal Justin Marchel.

The two remaining girls had been declared ineligible prior to the incident and have not been kicked off the team, Marchel said.

The cheerleaders’ removal stems from occurrences during Jan. 3 and Jan. 13 basketball games, according to school officials. The first incident occurred during a Cleburne game against Fort Worth Christian.

“[Jan. 3] was the first game back [following Christmas break],” said Kara Mead, CISD director of community education and CHS cheerleader sponsor. “They were supposed to cheer; the varsity cheer squad chose not to cheer.”

Accounts differ between the parties involved as to whether Mead furnished the girls with a schedule over the break or informed them to cheer that night. The cheerleaders, parents and school officials all said the girls went on to cheer without incident during the Jan. 6 contest against Brownwood. Past that point, the story differs between the parties involved and becomes less clear.

Mead said because the Jan. 13 game opened district play for CHS, she wanted to have the full presence of freshman, junior varsity and varsity cheerleaders on the court.

According to Mead, members of the varsity squad left the floor and went to the student section of the stands. At that point, Mead said she requested they either get back on the floor and cheer, change into regular clothes if they wanted to stay, or leave the gymnasium. Mead said the girls refused to obey any of her requests and remained at the game.

The varsity squad members involved said they have no problem with the freshman and JV squads. The problem, they said, is that Mead told them the freshman and JV squads would not cheer at the game so long as all the varsity squad appeared and cheered.

Debbie Braswell, mother of two of the affected cheerleaders, said the girls considered Mead’s actions that night a betrayal and the latest in a list of grievances stretching back to her arrival.

Mead took over sponsor duties in July 2005. The squad had been without a sponsor since April when Mead agreed to take over the reins.

Parents and cheerleaders complained that the squad membership has decreased from 17 to seven since the beginning of the school year in August. They credit the high attrition rate to dissatisfaction with Mead’s attitude, disruption of longtime cheerleading traditions and failure to remain at practices and games several times throughout the year.

Marchel said he was unaware of any such issues until the incidents this month.

“I take [working with the cheerleaders] seriously,” Mead said. “I had an awesome sponsor when I was in high school. She taught us to be ladies, and that’s what I want to teach my cheerleaders.”

Despite any problems the squad may or may not have had with Mead, Marchel said he supports her decision to remove them from the team. CHS Vice Principal Fran Ramirez said all the cheerleaders receive and sign for a copy of the “2005-2006 Cheerleading Constitution,” which puts them on notice of the rules of conduct.

According to the constitution, “The CHS cheerleading program uses a merit/demerit system that is included in the constitution and all cheerleaders and parents must agree to abide by [it] before tryouts. Demerits are given for specific violations of rules and procedures and are given at the discretion of the coach.”

The constitution further states that “a cheerleader may be removed from the squad for the accumulation of 13 demerits ... A cheerleader who is removed from the squad will not be allowed to tryout the following year.”

According to the rules, a cheerleader may receive five demerits for each absence from a required practice or performance and six demerits for disrespect or insubordination toward the cheerleading coach.

Marchel said the girls’ actions, at the time they were dismissed from the team, totaled 16 demerits.

Braswell said in retrospect the girls probably should have followed Mead’s orders on Jan. 13. She and the others said, however, that they tried to be supportive of Mead initially but soon grew frustrated with the inability of school officials to hear and address their alleged grievances.

Braswell said she doesn’t disagree the girls in question should be disciplined, just not to the degree of severity handed down by the school.

“These girls work hard, practice dangerous stunts and have to practice and condition just like the football players,” Braswell said.

She added that while many may consider cheerleading frivolous, the girls and their families contribute years of hard work and lots of money to the discipline and that it matters because it could possibly lead to college scholarships.

She also said the girls are good students, not the type in the principal’s office every week, deserving of some consideration and less severe punishment.

With Marchel standing firm behind the girl’s expulsion, Braswell and several other parents said they intend to take the matter to Superintendent Robert Damron and, if necessary, the school board. Braswell said they also intend to march near the school at 7 a.m. Monday and pass a petition supporting the cheerleaders’ reinstatement.

Mead said JV cheerleaders would cheer at the remaining basketball games; however, they would not be elevated to varsity status.

Matt Smith can be reached at 817-645-2441,

ext. 2339, or

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