Teachable moment missed: New Jersey high school allows everyone to make team, regardless of ability


There’s a high school in East Hanover, New Jersey. They had cheerleader tryouts. Some girls didn’t make the team. Parents of one girl complained. The school district revised their policy and decides to allow every girl to be on the squad.

It’s disappointing to want something and not get it. From many personal experiences, I can relate. Jobs I didn’t get. Goals I failed to achieve. I still have a letter from a graduate school that didn’t accept me (I still think they were wrong!)

In college, I ran for vice president of the organization that oversaw the fraternities. I had the goal of becoming president my senior year. When I ran for vice president, I lost. It was a disappointing setback.

When you don’t accomplish a goal, you can complain, make excuses, or feel sorry for yourself. Or you can refocus, work harder, and try again.

High school is old enough to learn start learning that lesson. And it’s an important life lesson. We learn so much more from disappointment and challenge than we do from winning and ease.

Show me a person who always succeeds, and I’ll show you a person who needs to be striving for some more challenging accomplishments.

Many are criticizing the school as another example of “snowflakes” and of our participation trophy culture. In this situation, I think those criticisms are warranted.

Some of the cheerleaders went before the school board and a young woman said that this new policy threw her hard work “out the window.” We make a mistake when we let the unqualified participate in the name of fairness. And it also undermines those who worked hard. It cheapens their effort.

So instead of girls who didn’t making the team learning a valuable lesson about disappointment, the girls who rightfully made the team are learning a different life lesson: “life isn’t always fair and you have to deal with a lot of ridiculousness.”

Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.