#11

Jessica is the Head Varsity Cheer Coach at Palmer Ridge High School. Last year she asked me to be her Assistant. For about 8 months now I’ve been in that position. My “side gig”. That takes up a lot of time and pays VERY little and requires more gut strength than I ever imagined. My daughter is a Sophomore on the team. This team won The Colorado State Cheer Championship last year. This team gets on a bus this coming Friday for Denver to defend that title. As a parent, last year, I spent 2 days so close to “puke status” in nerves that I sat close to trash cans in the coliseum just to be sure. All parents whose children have played in any sport or competed at any type of contest can relate. And at the STATE level when you are in front of 1,000’s of people its multiplied times ten. And now….this time….I have 21 kids competing.

To say Im nervous is an understatement. A BIG one. But its not just nerves about winning, about defending a title. It is a million times harder to win the second time. I know that. And everyone is watching us. EVERYONE in this state associated with this sport knows who we are and has stalked us all year and is after us. As it is in any sport with the defending champs. So the past few weeks Ive naturally thought about when I cheered and we went to competitions. Regionals, Nationals. The memories.
When I first tried out for Freshman Cheerleader in 1987 it was NOT a popularity contest like some schools had. Tryouts were behind closed doors with only some select judges that were hired through a third party watching us. Individually. They did not know our names, we only had numbers pinned to us. #11. It was a true “tryout”. The school nor the students had anything to do with who was selected for the team. And that day, in March of 1987, when my name was one of 12 girls’ names called out of about 100+ that tried out….my life changed.
I only vaguely knew of some of those other 11 girls that day. But all of that would change. Two months ago, almost 30 years after that day, I attended my 25th High School Reunion with 2 of those girls. We got ready together in Lauren’s bathroom. We tried on outfits, laughed, sprayed WAY too much hairspray and talked about stuff that stays in the bathroom.  Over the past 30 years those girls and I have been through marriages, divorces, deaths of parents & siblings & a fellow cheerleader. We’ve had miscarriages and kids and illness and moved and changed jobs and gotten older. Much older. But you drop us together in a bathroom with some wine and some hairspray and no time at all had passed. That day, 30 years ago….they became family.
And so I know what is about to happen for these 21 girls. I know what is ahead for them. I know that competing on a mat together for 2 and half minutes is only one tiny fraction of what makes them family. Of what unites them. Of what ties them together forever.  Its HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS of endless practices. Its long bus rides to away games. Its boyfriends being assholes and plots to get revenge and crying on each others’ shoulders. Its sleep overs and fights and arguments about whose fault it was when the stunt fell. Its shoulder surgery and sprained ankles and extra tumbling lessons and pulled muscles. Its football games in the snow when everyone has gone home but them. It’s paint wars and Secret Santas and hotel rooms and “tattoos” ;). It’s rolling their eyes at each other when they don’t think we see it. Its getting your drivers license, giving each other rides to practice, staying up late to help each other study for a test you HAVE to pass. Its blue hair, sharing bows and t-shirts and food. Its crying through pain and doing full-outs anyway. It’s being 17 and wanting to be treated like an adult but laying in your coaches’ lap. It’s parents divorcing and being there for each other.  It’s all of this and so very much more. That makes them a team.
They are funny, sarcastic, smart, witty, caring, kind, jerks-at-times, selfish, spoiled, moody, loving, affectionate, everything that a teenage girl is supposed to be. And I love them. All of them. And my nerves for my kid are still there. Because she’s mine. I gave birth to her. I love her and I want all good things for her. But THIS time I feel truly as if I have 21 kids. And I thank Jessica for that. For getting this perspective. I WAS a cheerleader. I AM a parent. And now I AM a coach too. How crazy lucky am I to get to experience it from all of those places. Thank you to my cheer coaches who I more than likely took for granted. Mrs. Willis and Coach Grover- THANK YOU!
Why does “I was a cheerleader” not float effortlessly out of my mouth? Because I know those four words cannot possibly sum up all it means.
Girls….you know how competitive I am. I know how competitive you are. I know how much we all want to win. I am acutely aware of the millions of hours and sweat you’ve put into this. If we walk away with another trophy I will be ecstatic for all of you. But trophy or not, YOU girls are amazing people. I am so unbelievably proud of you. Of the women you are becoming. And proud to be walking through this with you. Hug each other tight. Here’s to bathrooms 30 years from now. Now lets KICK SOME ASS PALMER’S HOUSE!
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