A Detroit-area mom’s objections over a booty-shaking cheer got her 6-year-old daughter booted right off the cheerleading squad — and touched off a nasty war of words that’s pitted Jennifer Tesch against an intricate web of local authorities.
As sports cheers go, “Our backs ache, our skirts are too tight, we shake our booties from left to right!” isn’t likely to make Chris Rock blush. But when Tesch’s daughter Kennedy came home after practicing with her Madison Heights Wolverines cheerleading squad and demonstrated the routine, her mom was taken aback.
“I was in shock, and right away I addressed it with the coach and the general manager of the Wolverines,” Tesch told Meredith Vieira live from Michigan on TODAY Friday.
Looking for answers
A former cheerleader and cheerleading coach herself, Tesch didn’t think the cheer was appropriate for a 6-year-old. But when she voiced her objections, she received what she believes was the classic runaround.
“The general manager was kind of like, ‘Well, we’ve been doing it that way for years and that’s the way it’s going to be,’” Jennifer Tesch said as she sat with Kennedy, her husband Duane, and their youngest child, Aiden.
She then approached the squad’s coach, who told Tesch she “didn’t really have any power,” and to take it up again with the general manager. So Tesch met with the general manager and coach again, who told her the Wolverines’ governing board was aware of her concerns, but that the cheer was mandated by the state’s cheerleading association.
But upon talking to the association’s director, Tesch said she was left scratching her head. “[They] told me that they don’t mandate cheers at all, and she would talk to the general manager of the Wolverines,” she told Vieira.
‘That’s when we got mad’At that point, things got testier. Tesch said she sounded out a few other parents, who agreed the cheer seemed racy for a 6-year-old to be chanting. The board told Tesch she could opt to have her daughter sit out that particular cheer, but it also delivered some stinging words.
“Their response was they’ve been doing this cheer for 20 years, and that was it,” Tesch said. “And after insinuating that my husband and I were kind of perverse for thinking it was incorrect and inappropriate, that’s when we got mad.”
Tesch took her story to the local media, and within two days, the cheerleading higher-ups, along with some parents, became so irate over the brouhaha that Kennedy was removed from the squad, which cheers for local little league flag football.
“The ultimate result was they were going to keep the cheer; the coach could decide whether she does it or not,” Tesch told Vieira. “But because of the drama that we created about this, [the board] was going to remove the family from the organization for the year.”
Coach fires backThe Cheerleading Wars continued to escalate. The team’s coach, Lisa Ernest, went on a local morning radio show program and blasted Tesch. “I’m directly quoting this lunatic,” Ernest said of Tesch. “She said, ‘I don’t mind the booty-shaking so much, but it’s the back aching and the skirt being too tight I don’t understand.’ ”
Tesch told NBC that she naturally feels bad for her daughter, who finds herself on the outside looking in at one of her favorite activities: “They broke her heart,” Tesch said. And she had to explain to her daughter that folks were mad at Mommy, not her, and that the squad “really liked her and she was not being punished.”
She added that the family has received loads of support via phone and Facebook for standing up for their beliefs, and two other teams have offered to put Kennedy on their cheerleading squads. But for now, the family is considering putting Kennedy into a gymnastics program instead.
As far as getting Kennedy back on the Wolverines cheerleading squad, Tesch said that ship has sailed. “I don’t think I would ever want to go back, because ultimately, if they think it’s OK to remove a 6-year-old from a team, I wouldn’t want my daughter in that organization anyway,” she said.
But she would like an apology.
“I just wish that they would acknowledge that what they did to [Kennedy] was incorrect,” Tesch told Vieira.
‘Where does it stop?’Still, some local parents were clearly peeved about Tesch pushing for the racy cheer to be discontinued: Dad Ron Messig told Fox 2 TV in Detroit the issue “really comes down to what one person wants against what everybody else wants.” But Tesch found a staunch supporter for her actions in TODAY’s Kathie Lee Gifford.
Speaking with co-anchor Hoda Kotb during TODAY’s fourth hour Friday, Gifford said the cheer is not only inappropriate for a 6-year-old; she didn’t believe it was even appropriate for her 17-year-old daughter, Cassidy.
“Where does it stop?” Gifford said. “It’s the sexualization of our young females from an earlier and earlier [age]. When do parents lose our rights to raise children according to the values that we think are important?”
When Kotb told Gifford her school cheerleading squad actually had a very similar, though less lurid, cheer, Gifford said those kinds of cheers didn’t exist “in the 1800s when I was a cheerleader. It was sis-boom-bah, rah-rah! It’s, little by little, the choices that we’re making that’s deteriorating our culture as whole.”
Gifford was also incensed that cheerleading coach Lisa Ernest called Tesch a “lunatic” in a radio interview, saying she “sounds like Jane Lynch from ‘Glee’.”
“Something should happen,” Gifford said. “It was completely uncalled for.”