KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Governor Bill Lee extended an executive order this week that bars cheerleaders, pep bands, and dancers from attending certain high school events.
"It was upsetting, because I only got to cheer one game. That was my entire season," cheerleader Anna Jones said.
Jones is a sophomore and cheers at William Blount High School, but she and her teammates are no longer cheering.
"I'm really mad that I just can't do what I love to do with the people that I love," she said.
Governor Lee on Tuesday signed Executive Order 74, which extends COVID-19 safety restrictions to school-sponsored sporting events. The order allows schools to host sporting events, but requires them to follow specific guidelines from the TSSAA.
Those guidelines only allow certain people to attend practices, games or competitions. While student-athletes, coaches, parents, media, scouts and first responders are allowed to attend -- cheerleaders, bands, dancers and others typically part of the gameday fanfare are not included.
The goal of the executive order was to limit the amount of people gathering in one place while events are taking place. But Anna said her team was more than prepared to follow certain restrictions to ensure they were following social distancing guidelines.
"We can spread out 6 feet while wearing our mask and be farther apart from each other, more than everyone else that's playing," she said.
Many in the community see it not only as unfair, they feel it makes little sense if the state is continuing to allow contact sports amid the pandemic. If the state is willing to allow classes to be held in-person, as well as allow dozens of athletes to play in enclosed spaces in close contact, then they wonder why cheerleaders, dancers and bands are excluded.
One of those people is Brock Jones, Anna's father, who wrote a response to Gov. Bill Lee that attracted attention on social media.
"They're not being treated equally. You've got football, you've got basketball... all those programs are still going,” he said. "Why should a parent not be able to come watch their cheerleaders? They're both athletes."
The community is behind them, with a petition for cheerleaders, dancers and bands now well over 10,000 signatures.
“It shows that people care. It’s not just the parents of kids or just the cheerleaders -- it's a lot of people," Brock Jones said.
He said all it comes down to is being treated fairly, just like those who participate in other sports.
With the season now over, Anna Jones is taking a life lesson away from this.
"It’s going to teach me to make the most of every moment and not take anything for granted, because you don't know when it’s going to be over," she said.