Letter to the editor gets newspaper in trouble


Principal halts publication after cheerleaders go public with reasons for quitting





\nMICHIGAN - When a feud between the Marshall High School\ncheerleading squad went public through the school's student newspaper\nthanks to a letter to the editor by two anonymous former cheerleaders,\nsome parents and administrators tried to shoot the messenger.

\nAfter a February issue of Smoke Signals came back from\nthe printing press, Principal Ray Davis ordered the "controversial"\narticle to be blackened out with a marker, believing it to be\nan inappropriate bashing of the sport. However, it did not, as\nDavis intended, avoid the spotlight as some students and parents\ncried censorship while others were upset because some copies of\nthe articles are legible if held up to the light.

"You might as well have taken a red marker and drawn a big\ncircle around it with a note really big beside it that said, 'read\nthis,'" said Nathan Bootz, the newspaper's adviser.

The article in question developed after four cheerleaders quit\nthe team due to disagreements and two of the four wanted to express\ntheir apologies and reasons for what they felt was letting down\ntheir school. Smoke Signals, they decided, would be the perfect\nmedium.

According to Bootz, when the letter entered his staff's hands,\nthey edited some of the derogatory content aimed at other cheerleaders,\nand printed the article anonymously, hoping to avoid repercussions\nagainst the two authors.

But angry parents of cheerleaders who have spoken out against\nthe paper and threatened a lawsuit caused administrators to investigate\nthe matter, temporarily halting the publication. However, no official\ncomplaint has been filed, according to Bootz.

"We were being accused of trying to dig up dirt," Bootz\nsaid. "We're not a tabloid. We're not trying to piss people\noff. We're trying to print school-related topics and trying to\neducate and inform."

The situation also jeopardized the future of the school's first\njournalism class in over eight years, scheduled for the fall.

The article not only put the paper in the spotlight, but Bootz\nas well. Bootz, a physics teacher, began Smoke Signals\nlast fall on his own time and with his own equipment.

The administration, as a result of the investigation, questioned\nif they should hire a certified journalism adviser to replace\nBootz.

Davis criticized the staff of Smoke Signals for their intentions.

"Cheerleading is a sport in the state of Michigan,"\nhe said. "None of the other sports teams and their arguments\nare being written about." Davis said he believes if a sports\nteam is to be put into the spotlight by a student newspaper, then\nit should be done so positively.

According to the Battle Creek Enquirer, a local newspaper\nin Michigan, Marshall is known for its champion sports teams.

The situation was resolved when Davis met with administrators\nand decided to continue the publication, saying he would enforce\nthe rule that has been in the handbook since the last student\nnewspaper folded eight years ago, that all articles must have\na by-line.

However, Davis would not comment if reenforcing the rules was\nan effective solution.


reports, Spring 1999