More often than not, I’m met with disbelief when I tell people I was a cheerleader in high school. In their defense, it’s been 15 years, and I’m not the lithe 170-pounder I was when I graduated. Back then, I’d rip my shorts when I did a toe-touch. Today, I’d rip a groin.
But I was, and I’m really glad for it, because it was one of those things that taught me more than any bookwork I ever did in class. It taught me to figure out something that I wanted, and then go for it, damn the torpedoes.
Keep in mind, I did this in 2001, before the numerous homosexual epithets that we know and love today became so widely taboo. If I went through an entire day without somebody asking me right to my face whether I was attracted to other dudes, I’d wonder if people didn’t recognize me.
(And as secure as I’ve always been in my liking of the fairer sex, when you’re 17, that stuff tends to wear on you at some point. At least, it did to me. But I put up with it, because that’s just what you do.)
To give you some context, I never really played any sports in school prior to trying out for cheer. I fiddled around with roller hockey in my freshman year, but only because my brother did it too, and the school “team” (really just a club) was so short on participants and they needed a rotational guy for the right wing D. (You know…for all the games we played. :P)
I got back into cycling my sophomore year, but not through school. Then my junior year rolled around, my big brother had gone off to college, and suddenly I was the oldest kid at home, and that had a big impact on me, having been Numeros Dos growing up. Early that school year, I saw the posters for the Powderpuff Game, kind of laughed it off, then stopped myself and thought…
Suddenly I wasn’t looking for reasons not to do it. I wasn’t considering what my brother might say if he found out I wanted to do it. I was figuring out ways that I could just do it.
So I took a shot at it. I endured the laughs and the jokes and the ribbing from my peers. I hung out after school with a bunch of guys who were in much better shape than I, and we learned from the varsity cheer girls (who, surprise, were much better at cheer than we were) how to do some basic builds and fool around with pom-poms on the sideline. We had a heck of a time goofing off, the game came and went, and once it was all done, I found myself thinking…man, I could still do that.
I wouldn’t have been the first male cheerleader at my school. There were already two guys, one on varsity, one JV, so the trailblazing aspect of it was well and handled. I chewed on it all year long. I exercised, lost a few more pounds, built some upper body strength, and spent a week of after-school sessions at tryouts.
Come Friday, with no previous experience, just busting my hump and learning from Larry and Chris, as well as the outgoing senior girls…I made varsity.
And I learned a TON about myself in the process. I don’t know how much I’ve ever opened up to anyone about this in the years since, but of all the decisions I ever had to make in my teenage years, joining the cheer squad sticks out clearly in my memory as the one most outside my comfort zone.
Yet it gelled so well with who I am. I’m loud. I’m explosive. I’m obnoxious and colorful and get way too into things that I like. (These things are not always virtues. Learning to temper them was a process that lasted most of my 20s, but that’s a story for another day.)
My wife can tell you of the numerous decisions I made in my youth that I would go back and change, if I could. Or of the things I’d go back and tell myself, so I could get started sooner. These are things we plan to teach our boys, about having foresight, wanting something, learning how to get it, and so forth.
But she’s never once heard me express regret about being a cheerleader. I never have. It’s less about the sport itself, and more about the fact that I finally learned how to see something I wanted and grab it without giving a single damn what anyone else thought about it.
And in my adult life, that has so often made the difference.
As we clear out our garage, deciding what things to take on our move to Utah, we occasionally come across old mementos of things that we don’t really need to keep. I still have my cheer megaphone, which cost me $50 back in the day, and was custom air-brushed by local artist Shawn Ealy. I decided to part ways with it, and was just going to toss it, when my wife suggested donating it to my alma mater. I did (and the current principal happens to have been my Spanish teacher back in my teens) and we’ll be delivering it in the coming weeks.
Hopefully I’ll figure out how to condense the guts of this post to a single sheet of paper, so it can hang with the cone in the display case on campus. Not necessarily to inspire a new generation of cheer-bros, but rather to embolden everyone to shake off their fears and choose what they want for themselves.
That was the takeaway for me, anyhow.
That’s all. Get back to work.