GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — Fewer teams will have the chance to compete in this year’s Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Cheer and Dance State Championship thanks to a change in the registration policy that says teams will qualify based on the order in which they registered and not their skills, according to coaches.

The TSSAA sent an email informing coaches that not all teams would be able to compete in November’s state championship due to construction on MTSU’s campus, including at the competition venue, the Murphy Center.

The email said team selection would be decided on a “first come, first served basis,” during the registration process. It went on to say registration requests would be “time-stamped and then reviewed in the order they are received.”

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“Instead of doing it by ability, they did it according to who could type the fastest,” Station Camp High School dance team head coach, Cheri Leonard said. “The stress of trying to get in quick enough, it was kind of like we were in a Taylor Swift concert, trying to get tickets to the Taylor Swift concert.”

Leonard told News 2 she completed her registration request in the online portal four minutes after it opened. She found out a week later her team, the Bison Bellas, didn’t make the cut and would be put on a waitlist, potentially losing out on the chance to defend their state title.

It wasn’t until days later that the Bison Bellas were notified they would get the chance to compete because another team chose to perform just one dance versus two.

However, at least four other teams are still on the waitlist, according to Leonard, including other state title holders.

Leonard said the situation speaks to a larger issue regarding the double standard among sports. She believes athletes who play other sports, including football or baseball, likely wouldn’t be put through a similar process.

“It’s not about us,” Leonard said. “It’s about what [the TSSAA] is doing to cheer and dance and the lack of respect that they’re doing to us. On their website, we are [listed as] activities. We’re not an activity. We’re athletes just like what they’re supposed to be supporting, and they’re not supporting us.”

Thousands of cheer and dance athletes have signed a petition for all teams to be able to compete in this year’s TSSAA Cheer and Dance State Championship.

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News 2 reached out to the TSSAA for comment, Monday evening they sent the following reply.

“Unfortunately, this is correct.  There is a dance studio that is not available this year due to construction/renovation issues at Murphy Center on the campus of MTSU. We have been able to accommodate all teams who have wanted to compete in years past, but that will not be the case this year. We have made some changes to increase the number of performances from 140 to 150, but that will not be enough to accommodate everyone who has registered for the event.  With that said, we still have access to multiple gyms at Murphy Center for warm up areas and awards presentations that would not be available at potential alternate venues. Multiple gyms for warm ups and awards allows us to run performances continuously all day. As a result, we believe this venue still provides the opportunity for the maximum number of performances for this competition.    

This is, and always has been, an invitational event that teams do not have to qualify for. Therefore, it is a bit different from other championship events that TSSAA sanctions. We don’t know from one year to the next how many will register. We have had some capacity issues before but we have always been able to make it work. We are certainly disappointed that this will not be enough to allow everyone who wishes to perform to do so, but are confident that we will be able to make some changes in the future so that we will not run into this issue again.”