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Holland cheerleaders protest during national anthem

By Chris Zadorozny/The Holland Sentinel • Oct 3, 2017 at 9:28 PM

HOLLAND — Eleven of 13 members of the Holland High School varsity cheerleading team decided to take a knee Friday during the national anthem prior to the Dutch hosting Zeeland West in a varsity football game at Ray & Sue Smith Stadium. Two decided not to kneel.

The kneeling occurred less than a week after more than 200 NFL players knelt or raised fists and three teams stayed in the locker room during the national anthem. The protests were in response to President Donald Trump, seemingly out of nowhere, saying NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem and describing those protesters with the term, “son of a bitch,” during Week 3 of the NFL season.

“Yes I took a knee, and to any one (sic) who says that we did it as a trend is wrong,” said one cheerleader in Facebook post on Friday.

The Sentinel is not identifying the students because several threatening statements have been made toward them in reaction to the incident.

“My country is not a trend, my ethnicity is not a trend and my family who lives in Mexico because they can’t become citizens is most defiantly (sic) not a trend and no it is not a diss on anyone who serves for our country or those who protect our cities,” the student wrote, “but I have a right to protest what I believe in because it’s people who fight for us Americans who gave me that right!”

The movement was started last year by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he declined to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the 2016 preseason to bring attention to racial inequality in America after several police shootings of blacks garnered national attention. At first, Kaepernick sat, then he was asked to kneel in honor of the military by a Navy Seal, which he obliged.

“That’s the amazing and beautiful thing about the platform we have as professional athletes, for some reason people want to listen to us,” 49ers’ Eric Reid said. “I don’t know why. There are people who are a lot smarter than me who don’t have the same platform that professional athletes have.”

Reid said he spoke frequently with Kaepernick, whom he calls the leader of the movement that has crossed over to other sports with Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell also kneeling during the national anthem and many NBA players expressing their anger at Trump.

“When the girls decided to kneel during the anthem, they had not had a full conversation with me about their decision,” Holland cheer coach Quinette Yarbrough said. “As we have opened up the conversation amongst ourselves, I have learned that each one of them had their own separate reasons for kneeling. Some kneeled protest to social injustice around our country, some kneeled in support of their teammates, some kneeled to protest inequality in our justice system but all of them kneeled to show that they too have a voice and they wanted it to be heard.”

The fact that kneeling occurred locally sparked outrage by some.

Nicole Valkema, of Hamilton, said, “It is unfortunate and a disgrace to Holland as a whole for these Holland High School cheerleaders to take a knee during the national anthem at Friday night’s game. Men and women (sic) all over the country are continuing to fight for all our freedom (sic) including these Holland High School cheerleaders. ... It is unexceptable (sic) sad, and I will no longer support Holland High School, or anyone else that decides to take a knee during the national anthem.”

Yarbrough said that some of the cheerleaders attended the Community Conversation on Monday night to share why they were kneeling.

“It opened up a dialogue between both sides and that has been the first step to continuing the conversation,” Yarbrough said. “Those who have chosen to kneel will continue to kneel, and those who have chosen to stand will probably continue to stand and I will 100 percent support every last one of my girl’s decisions.”

Holland High School Superintendent Brian Davis did not endorse nor condemn the students’ actions, but supported their right to free speech.

“These actions did not create a disruption ... and were within their constitutional rights,” Davis said of the students in a statement. “The district believes that patriotism and love of country should be encouraged and celebrated in school activities as reflected in our school policies. As a school district, we remain committed to upholding the law and protecting our students’ constitutional rights, while maintaining a safe and orderly learning environment for our students. While events like those at Friday’s game may seem like these ideals are in opposition to each other, they are, in fact, democracy in action.”

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