WAYNE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The start of the New Jersey school year means high school sports are also back, albeit with strict social distancing guidelines.
But two groups of cheerleaders in Wayne say they feel discriminated against after their high schools told them they're not allowed to attend away football games, CBS2's Kiran Dhillon reported Thursday.
Darla Zisa has been cheerleading since the fourth grade. The 17-year-old calls it her passion.
"I get to cheer on the players and have a lot of school spirit and I get to feel more involved within the school," Zisa said.
That's why she was devastated when her cheerleading team at Wayne Valley High School was told, along with the team at Wayne Hills High, that cheerleaders and marching bands would only be able to participate in home games, not away, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"There's clearly been a lot of changes and I get it. Health is the most important. They should be allowed to cheer. We shouldn't have to not to what we love to do," Zisa said.
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Darla's mom, Susan Zisa, agrees. She represents the football sideline cheerleaders at Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills.
"They are very passionate about what they do. They're an extension of the football team and we feel that it's discrimination," Susan Zisa said.
In letter to the families of cheerleaders and marching band members, the two high schools said, "Both programs are a vital part of our school community," but the schools are just following CDC, state, and New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association coronavirus guidelines.
Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills high schools did not reply to CBS2's request for comment, but Dr. Mark Toback, the superintendent of Wayne Township Public Schools, said by phone the reason cheerleaders and marching bands are allowed at home games and not away ones is because this will limit the number of people going into new communities.
And that the stands can only accommodate social distancing for a limited number of people.
The NJSIAA says sideline cheerleading is not considered a sport under its purview, so individual schools can decide for themselves if cheerleaders can be put in the end zones or in the stands.
Darla Zisa agrees.
"Our coach already has been doing such a good job with making sure our sidelines spots are six feet apart and that we always keep our masks on," she said.
"Cut the spectators short and let the girls do what they love to do," Susan Zisa added.
The fall football season starts in October.
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