When Kennesaw State University’s football team takes the field on Thursday, a slew of new faces will comprise the school’s cheerleading squad.
That’s because four out of the five KSU cheerleaders who took a knee during the national anthem last year as part of a nationwide movement to draw attention to police brutality didn’t make the team.
Their act of protest inspired praise—and a backlash from the university itself. After the cheerleaders, all of whom are black women, took a knee on Sept. 30, KSU banned the cheerleading squad from taking the field during the national anthem, keeping them in the tunnel instead, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The school later reversed the move.
As WXIA reports, KSU says competition for the squad was much tighter this year than last, with 95 applicants competing for 52 available spots, compared to 61 cheerleaders trying out in 2017. In total, seven cheerleaders on KSU’s squad in 2017 didn’t make the cut this year.
But one of the cheerleaders who knelt last year, Toomia Dean, told WXIA her protest definitely “played a role” in the final decision.
“I know the people who made it. I know their skills and I know my skills. But I don’t think it was a skills-based thing. Not to say I’m amazing or anything, but I know my skills and what I had,” she told the local news outlet.
The decision was made in May, but has just been publicized recently, as the start of the college football season approaches.
A spokesperson for the cheerleaders told the Journal Constitution the girls are disappointed in not making the team, but “they’ve accepted it and went on with their academic lives.”