Flashback almost 3 weeks ago, a week before Halloween. A young, 14-year-old male freshman for Wilcox High School was out cheering on his school’s football team as a member of the high school cheerleading squad. Unfortunately, members of the school’s football team did not share in the young man’s spirit as they bullied and threatened him with homophobic slurs and violence.
The incident spared an investigation from the school who contacted the Santa Clara Police Department to look into the matter. The school released a statement expressing that they work to “create an environment that embraces diversity and does not tolerate harassment or bullying of any kind.” In addition, a change.org petition was made to support the young man and to advocate for the bullies to be appropriately punished by the school administration.
The police investigation announced that while the actions of the bullies “did not rise to the level of criminal violation.” Santa Clara Police Captain, Wahid Kazem did offer a stern warning,
“Although not deemed criminal in nature, behavior that is hateful, threatening and mean spirited has no place in our community,” Kazem added. “The Santa Clara Police Department is committed to investigating such behavior when warranted and enforcing to the full extent of the law.”
Additionally, the school has announced that appropriate disciplinary actions were taken “given from the facts of the case, which range from removal from athletics to suspension from school.” Principal Kristin Gonzales wrote in an announcement sent to all parents.
The initial bullying did not intimidate the young man, who is one of three male cheerleaders on his school’s squad. He happily returned to his place on the Wilcox High Cheerleading Squad last Friday for another football match last Friday. However, there was an extra twist that he did not yet know about when kick off happened.
As he cheered, 35 spectators sitting in the first three rows of the midfield directly in front of the Wilcox squad were fellow cheerleaders from all over the Bay Area, all of whom came out to support the young man and his squad.
“I couldn’t believe it,” the Wilcox freshman said after the game. “It was special.”
The show of support was organized by Cupertino-Homestead High School junior, Liam Potolsky who learned of the young man’s story and wanted to show support.
“This is about him feeling supported but also about every male cheerleader so they know they are not alone,” said Potolsky, 16. “I don’t like to see other people getting bullied and I just want to spread the love and spread awareness.”
While not a member of the Cupertino-Homestead squad, Potolsky is part of the World Champions, California Allstars of Livermore. He attended the Wilcox game with his gold medal around his neck. During the third quarter of the game, the Freshman went into the stands to meet Potolsky and hear some words of encouragement,
“I hope you know, you’re not alone,” Potolsky told his new friend. “You’re family and you always are if you ever need one.”
Additionally, the young man received love and support from his family. While his father did warn him about the potential of becoming a target when he first started cheer in middle school, his father and his mother have both supported the young man’s cheer pursuits. Additionally, he has been inspired by his recently graduated sister who was a cheerleader at Wilcox for four years.
Members of various Bay Area cheer squads were present at the game, including Cheer San Francisco, Jamz Cheer and Dance, Rebels Elite San Francisco, San Jose State, Saratoga Prospect, San Jose High School, James Lick High School, Fremont High School, Rogue Athletics Bay Area and Nor*Cal Elite All-Stars.
The show of support was especially personal for Cheer San Francisco member Shelton Jorden who graduated from Wilcox High School in 2010. Jorden was a member of Wilcox’s color guard and had to deal with similar homophobic bullying.
The 35 supporters started a “Let’s Go Wilcox” cheer for the cheerleaders just before the Wilcox Cheer Squad took to the field for their halftime performance. The young man’s mother shared her love and appreciation of support for her son to Liam and his father Adam Potolsky,
“I’m crying,” the mother said. “Not for me. For my son.” She told Adam Potolsky, the father, “You’re showing love and support. They didn’t have to come out to do this.”
Additionally, the mother also shared her admiration and pride for her son speaking out about being harassed and standing up for himself and the team. He is setting a strong example of courage and leadership for his entire community and has already inspired so many people to do the same.
By Dirk Smith