I have been thinking a lot lately about my time as a cheerleader. It was my sport growing up, and yes, I’ll admit, until high school, the activity was mostly just that — an activity. But, I enjoyed it a lot. I’ll never forget my big sister Amy cheering for the Jets, the little league team that I would eventually cheer for. She had a green and white uniform, saddle oxfords, and enormous green and white poms that I used to use for various things later after she’d lost interest in cheerleading. They were even larger than these I found online:
I remember they reminded me of McDonald’s Fry Guys, too:
I am sure most of you reading this saw my old pics I posted on Facebook over the weekend, so here’s just a subset, all of which feature my cheerleading glory days. A few of them are missing, not sure why.
First up: the Jets. That’s right, I got to cheer for the same squad my sister Amy cheered for. It was my first year cheering, in 4th grade. I got to wear my uniform to school, which was fun in some ways but weird because not many girls at my elementary school cheered for little league. Most of the girls I cheered with went to another, larger elementary school.
I just noticed that my socks say “BS.” This is because I cheered in Boiling Springs. And, yes, as we aged and became cynical, we all found these initials quite hilarious.
The next year: Colts
It was fun to wear navy blue. I remember wanting to be on the Oilers, because their colors were sky blue and white. That looked awesome. Also, the Falcons was a desirable squad because they had the high school’s colors (never mind the actual NFL team’s colors! What did I know??), red and black.
This next one is from the Jets in either 6th or 7th grade. Yes, I cheered for little league that long. No, it was considered cool to cheer in 7th grade unless you were an actual junior high cheerleader AT the school, not for little league. Oh, well.
I still have my cheer uniforms from 6th and 7th grade. One of them had a megaphone on the uniform top with my name embroidered on it. Too funny! It definitely comes in handy to have these uniforms — which were roomy then but still fit me now — at Halloween. I haven’t had the guts to wear one for the girls I coach. 🙂
I tried out for cheerleading in my junior high but didn’t make it for 8th grade. I was first alternate, though! They only had two grades in my junior high, 7th and 8th, and then only had four girls from each grade make the cheerleading squad. I remember being a really shy kid who loved to cheer, so it meant the world to me when I made first alternate and when someone who watched my tryout told me I had done really well. Just goes to show how large and important these small things were back then, and how such small things can lift the spirits of the students I interact with at school. You just never know!
9th grade rolled along and another chance for cheering was on the horizon. I made the squad of 8 freshmen football cheerleaders, which was considered to be a good sign that you were a good cheerleader. (Trust me, this all is so laughable now, but man oh man back then it was HUGE deal.)
I’m not saying that I was gorgeous, but I really thought I was not pretty at all back then. Now, looking at this picture, I think I was pretty cute! I would have loved to have coached me! This was also pre-braces, as I was certain straighter teeth would make my life SOOO much better.
I cheered again sophomore year — we had a squad of 10 sophomores for JV Football — but I don’t know where that portrait is. At tryouts I loaned my shoes from freshman cheering to my best friend, Holly, and she swears that was why she made basketball cheerleading sophomore year (she was in marching band so she couldn’t cheer on football). I remember being really nervous about stunting. I was short (and maybe small) enough to fly, but it make me so scared. I guess I had trust issues? Back then, I thought I was mammoth and that no one should be subjected to holding my weight. Anyway, once I tried going into a shoulder stand on one of the other girls and I was so scared that I couldn’t manage to stand up without totally trembling the whole time. Leslie, my base, declared that I was “shakin’ like a leaf,” which made us all crack up. I decided that basing was for me, even if it meant that I based for girls who were technically larger than I was.
Junior year, I decided to take a year off. I had gotten really interested in theatre and had become more and more involved in community theatre. I thought Varsity cheerleading would be too demanding. Stupidly, I also thought the girls who would be seniors my junior year would not be fun to work with. Who knows what I was thinking, because looking back, I think it would have been fun.
Senior year rolled along and I missed cheerleading. I remember making Varsity Football – one of 12 spots – and being so relieved that I had proven to myself that I was a good cheerleader even after taking a year off. One of my friends who had danced all her life but had never cheered also made it, so it was fun to have that experience together. Here are the two portraits from that year:
I was thrilled to be cheering again! I hate looking back at how shy I was. It really hampered what I could have gotten out of the experience. I felt left out at times, but that was my own fault. I enjoyed the structure of cheerleading, getting to wear the uniforms, learning stunts, dancing to the pep band songs at games, etc. It was really a lot of fun. I liked to joke back then that I wasn’t a typical cheerleader. I didn’t party, act crazy to draw attention to myself, and I made good grades. I called myself the nerdy cheerleader.
I cheered for basketball as a freshman in college but it wasn’t really anything like my previous experiences, plus having to cheer for two or three sets of games each week proved to be academically troubling to me. I think if they had allowed freshmen to cheer for football in college I might have kept it up.
Now, I am coach. I see these girls and try to think of their equivalent on the squads I cheered on. Some comparisons are obvious, others are not, but I definitely see myself in some of the shier but really hard working girls I’ve coached. I think about how I saw the cheers and stunts we did as sacred, and now I know that my girls hold their school’s cheer traditions in such high esteem as well. I hope that they learn a lot from our time together and that they look back on their high school cheerleading days with fond memories of why they loved cheering so much.