On Not Being a Cheerleader

I had no early experience with football. I grew up in a house with no men. Then, in seventh grade, my new school had a football team. And my Big Crush was on the team! I became a football fan. Week after week that fall, my friends and I followed the team, travelling up and down the sidelines as the team moved the ball. We were there for every game, regardless of the weather or the opponent or the chance of our team actually winning the game.

The team appreciated our support, but it was the cheerleaders who really got their attention. The cheerleaders had been selected early in the school year, before such a thing was on my radar. I made a vow; in eighth grade, I, too, would be a cheerleader!

cheerleaderThe next fall, I showed up ready for cheerleading tryouts. I was enthusiastic and optimistic. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and the next day I was sore. I hurt all over from using new muscles. It was an experience I’d never had before.

Tryout day finally arrived. Through the school day, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I knew I was destined to be a cheerleader. I had mastered the routines and excelled in all the drills. I was confident.

Once school was out, I ran home to change and then hurry back for some last minute practice. As I left my house, the sidewalks were teeming with the kids just dismissed from the public school across the street. In my neighborhood, there was no love lost between the kids form the public school and those of us who attended the Catholic school.

Moving quickly to avoid their teasing and jeers, I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was knocked unconscious. Although I was dazed, I remember some of the public school kids actually helped me up.  I don’t know how long I was out.

As I made my way back to school, my world was spinning and gray. Several times, I stopped along the way to rest my head against a building so I didn’t lose my balance. My mind was foggy and my knees were weak.

By the time I got to cheerleading tryouts, I really wanted it to be over. Time and again, we were called in groups to perform the different cheers before a panel of judges. When it was my turn, I couldn’t remember the routines or, when I could, I couldn’t keep time. When it wasn’t my turn, I sat on the floor, resting my head on my scraped up knees, willing the process to be done so I could just go home.

It was not a surprise when I didn’t make the squad. My mother went the next day to talk to the coach and explain how I had fallen and had a concussion. She tried to talk me onto the squad. The coach was sympathetic and admitted she was surprised I had done so poorly in the tryouts. Unfortunately, the judges’ decision was final and she couldn’t unseat someone else on the squad to make a place for me.

I always understood that, but I love that my mother went to bat for me that day.

I wonder how my life might have been different if I had made the squad. Would I have gone on to be a cheerleader in high school, rather than writing for the newspaper? I met my husband through my involvement with the theater department. As a cheerleader, would I even have had time for theater? When it happened, not making the team was devastating. Now, I think maybe it was a good thing!

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