Johnson County cheer coaches speak out after racial comments, board reaction

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LENEXA, Kan. — Two Johnson County cheer coaches are concerned after they say another coach used racial undertones at a seminar for Kansas City Football and Cheer Inc. last month.

The women say they took it to the board, but they aren’t doing enough.

Alyssa Daniels and Holly Carnes said if the coach left hair standards neutral, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, when the coach allegedly referred to Black people as “colored” and specifically talked about Black hair, it crossed a line.

“It just rolled off her tongue like it was normal,” Daniels said.

KCFC is based in Johnson County, and has cheer squads across the region. One coach told FOX4 they serve roughly 3,000 children in the region and around 25% of the children in their programs are black. They teach cheer to children from kindergarten all the way to 8th grade. Children across the metro are able to participate, but need to be able to travel to practice and games.

According to their website, KCFC’s mission is to “establish and administer programs for youth to participate in football and cheerleading in a safe, competitive and learning environment, that are delivered with the highest degree of efficiency, consistency, integrity, quality and fairness.”

Daniels said when she heard the woman’s comments she was shocked. She said it was at a cheer seminar nearly two weeks ago going over plans for the season. The woman was going over hair standards when things took a turn.

“You didn’t have to just say colored kids who have mini afros,” Daniels said.

She said the coach went off-handbook and said, “You may have some colored girls on your squad that may have short hair or mini afros, and you would still need to take a butterfly clip and get the bow in their hair.”

“I was just in shock. I can’t even tell you how it made me feel. I was so in shock. That word shouldn’t even be used. There are so many other ways you can word it, but to say ‘colored kids’ – it’s not OK,” Daniels said.

She reached out to Holly Carnes, who is an assistant area director and cheer coach for KCFC.

“I was really shocked. Really shocked,” Carnes said.

Daniels wrote to KCFC’s Cheer Board, but the response wasn’t what the women hoped for. In an email obtained by FOX4, the board president told Daniels, “(the coach) did not recall saying ‘colored’ in the same context as you had stated.”

She went onto write: “She did say that she tries very hard to be sensitive on such matters, and it is possible that she said ‘of color.’ She also admitted that the day of the coach’s training was not her best day and it is possible that it may have come out that way without any malicious meaning behind it.”

The board president told Daniels she apologized for the coach, and she would like to believe the woman’s intention was not to offend anyone but to inform coaches about how the girls should wear their hair safely, and that the board agreed on this.

“We also agreed that you need to be heard, and we need to be sensitive to your feelings. As a board, we made the decision that at our monthly cheer board meeting, we would discuss a ‘sensitive’ subject to bring awareness to those who may not be conscious of such matters as race, gender, weight, socioeconomics, two-family homes, and so on,” the board president wrote.

Daniels said the email wasn’t enough, and she would like the coach to apologize. Carnes attended the meeting where the incident was discussed and said she had faith they would do more, but left disappointed.

“I really thought we were on the understanding that we would start implementing things on race, and to find out that it wasn’t necessarily going to be that, we need to do a little bit more to make sure that’s going to happen,” Carnes said.

Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet is an organization in Kansas City who pushed to have the Crown Act implemented in Kansas City, and now are pushing for it nationwide. The Crown Act allows Black women to wear their hair naturally, and destigmatizes the view of Black women’s hair in the workplace.

Sandra Thornhill and Michele Watley were just as shocked to hear about the comments. They said it’s more than a bow or a hair style — it’s racism.

“I was disgusted just at the thought that this coach wants to call a group of persons bodies, people — colored, like are we in 1940? Like, where are we? I thought this was 2021,” Thornhill said.

“The problem comes in when you name specific hairstyles that are picked out as specific hairstyles that you cannot wear or ways you have to wear your hair. And when those specific hairstyles only impact one group of people, that’s where you get into discrimination by proxy.”

“Talking about this policy level, and this institutional level, that is where the focus needs to happen on changing that, so that we don’t have this personal mediated level of racism permeating down to our little children who then have to deal with this internalized inferiority syndrome. It’s a complex, it’s psychological, it’s trauma,” Thornhill said.

Daniels said she’s looking forward to coaching this year, but hopes the board implements anti-racism and diversity training. She said she started coaching to help black girls, like her daughter, see there’s space for them on the squad, too.

“You can do it, and don’t let anybody discourage you or knock you down because of your image or the way you look or your skin color or anything. You can do it,” Daniels said.

FOX4 reached out to the cheer board by phone and email; they sent the following statement Thursday afternoon:

“Kansas City Football and Cheerleading (KCFC) is aware of the situation within our organization and has been working internally with all parties. Representatives from KCFC have been in contact with everyone involved, and we are working towards a positive outcome.

“The KCFC Cheer Board has discussed the situation internally and has started a process to improve our education of coaching/teaching athletes from all different backgrounds. The KCFC Football Board will have this on its agenda moving forward as well.

“We have already discussed the opportunity with Holly Carnes to lead this endeavor for the cheerleading side, and she has accepted. Alyssa Daniels will also receive an invitation.”

Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet said this is an opportunity for them all to work together. Watley said she would be happy to work with the cheer organization, and would love to see them support the Crown Act as well.

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