LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WKBW) — Last weekend at the ECIC Cheer Championship Sectionals, the Starpoint varsity cheer team learned it would be moving on to states.
But those cheers quickly turning to tears for members of the team, as the team learned the venue where the state cheer championship will be held, RIT in Rochester is a vaccine only establishment, which means for Starpoint more than half the team can not compete.
For senior and captain of the Starpoint squad Talia Buttitta and her cousin freshman Giuliana it’s a huge blow.
"We’ve done it we’ve all put in the work together," Buttitta said. "I just want to compete with my team for one last time, and it hurts that they're trying to separate us when we’re a team and we’ve tried our hardest to qualify for states. It's breaking up a family."
Beginning this year, RIT’s website says it implemented a health and safety plan, requiring anyone ages five and up to be fully vaccinated for any event with 400 people or more.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association which puts on the event and represents student athletes in 797 state schools says
The executive committee, the representative governing body of NYSPHSAA, met on Wednesday, February 2nd in regular session. After lengthy discussion pertaining to championship locations, there was no support to adjust the locations or formats of championship events. To be proactive, NYSPHSAA released championship protocol in early September to ensure all member schools and teams were aware that championship events would be held in the scheduled venues, in accordance with any of the host venue’s COVID-19 protocols.
Several WNY schools, including Clarence advanced in the competition.
"We will boycott. We will not go unless they change it. I’m a coach, I’ll have another chance," said Clarence High School varsity coach Amber Rector. "My seniors won't."
Rector says the teams knew the championship would be at RIT but hoped something could be done as mandates are relaxing across the state as COVID-19 cases go down.
"They did not have to be vaccinated to go to school, to try out for this team, and to compete all year," Rector said. "Why should the final most important event require them to be vaccinated?"
Since NYSPHSAA voted not to change its location, Rector and her Clarence cheer squad are asking for another vote.
"Vote down no spectators which will lower the people in the building and when you get below 400, RIT’s mandate relaxes," Rector said.
Several parents spoke to 7 News regarding the issue. Alicia Colella, whose daughter is a freshman said something needs to be done.
"They have something to look forward to finally after two years of COVID and it's just taken," she said."We're definitely not going to lay down and take it. I have a constitutional attorney and we're going to fight all the way to the end."
"As a parent it's extremely frustrating," said Starpoint parent Staci Gross, whose daughter Autumn is a sophomore. "To see your team and your child work extremely hard to just say 'sorry because you didn't make the health choice we believe you should have made, you don't get to continue."
Gross says she would be in favor of limited attendance if it means her daughter can compete.
"If dropping the numbers is what would get the girls to go, then drop the numbers and let all schools go and compete."