Several high school cheerleaders' decision to take a knee Friday night while a VFW Color Guard performed at Cornell High School in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, isn’t sitting well with some, especially military veterans.
The gesture has made headlines in recent weeks because of NFL player Colin Kaepernick who has refused to stand while the national anthem is played in protest of racial injustice.
“They don't know what they are doing, them young kids. They don't know what they are doing,” WWII Army veteran Danny Larocco said.
Larocco said he didn’t take the photo of the cheerleaders kneeling that has circulated online, but he was there in-person. He said that he and his fellow veterans of VFW 402 in Coraopolis were invited to present the colors before the game.
Instead of standing like everyone else on the field and in the stands 12 out of 15 cheerleaders kneeled, Larocco said.
“I was 16 when I enlisted, fighting Japanese. To see them do that and disgrace Coraopolis and that school, it made me sick,” the military veteran said.
Cornell School District Superintendent Aaron Thomas, however, said he’s standing by his students’ decision to take a knee.
“This is a classic case that dates back to the ‘60s, and symbolic speech is protected speech,” he said.
Thomas said the district supports the students' right to free speech, and he said that he was aware some in the cheerleading squad were going to take a knee in a public protest. Thomas, though, said he’s the first to admit their timing could have been better.
“I apologize to those individuals on Friday night that I saw. Ideally could this have happened on another night? Yeah, but it happened on the night that it did (and) it created healthy discussion within (the) walls of our building,” the superintendent said.
Larocco said it all comes down to respect.
“My friends and everybody else that served in the service, they have that right to be respected. We love our flag very much. We fought for it,” he said.
Thomas said he cannot predict whether the cheerleaders will continue their protest at the next home game, but he said to be on the safe side, security will be increased.