High school cheerleaders cautioned for displaying pro-Trump banner at football game

On Sept. 16, 2019, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) placed a cheerleading squad on probation for posing with a Donald Trump banner at a school event, in violation of state rules against displaying political signs on campus. Local residents criticized the oversight board for unduly trampling the cheerleaders’ Free Speech rights.

Key Players

The cheerleaders represented North Stanly High School, a public school located 50 miles east of Charlotte. Stanly County is a largely Republican area that swung emphatically in favor of President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. 

The NCHSAA governs high school sports in North Carolina. Overseeing more than 400 schools, the organization is responsible for enforcing sporting rules and organizing interscholastic events. 

Further Details

At a football game on Aug. 30, 2019, the North Stanly High School cheerleading squad posed with a banner reading, “Trump 2020: Make America Great Again,” according to The Charlotte Observer

Some nearby residents and county officials criticized the cheerleaders for allegedly mixing politics with an apolitical event. After an investigation into the incident, on Sept. 16, 2019, the NCHSAA placed the cheerleaders on probation for the remainder of the football season, citing violations of school rules against political advertisements. But the association never disclosed the terms of the probation and ultimately allowed the cheerleaders to continue cheering, The Charlotte Observer reports. 


Locals rally to support cheerleaders, criticize Free Speech abridgement

The NCHSAA’s decision incited controversy. Many Stanly County residents rallied to the cheerleaders’ defense, criticizing state and county authorities for curbing student rights to free expression, according to ABC.

The local congressional representative in Washington, Richard Hudson, a Republican, wrote in a letter to the NCHSAA commissioner that he was “appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.”  

But the county defended the decision. “This policy does not prohibit students from speaking their minds or engaging in protected First Amendment activities,” county officials said in a statement. “Because the cheerleaders were in uniform and were acting as representatives of the school, the display of the sign could be perceived as the school or school system endorsing a political campaign.”

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said in a separate statement that the probation was not a form of punishment, according to The Observer. “It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior,” she said.

However, if similar actions continue, the NCHSAA warned, it could levy further suspensions or fines.