Lost in time, like cheers in the rainPosted: June 4, 2012
When I was in middle school, I had thin hair, an overbite, and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my mother.
Still, I wanted more. I wanted status, recognition. I wanted to be something and someone. I thought Student Council would be the way to go, but year after year, my homeroom was wont to elect two more popular kids to the posts, not some girl who, and I’m serious about this, wore glasses that had her name engraved across the bottom of one of the lenses.
There was a group anyone at Monnig Middle could join called the MAT Team (this stood for ‘Monnig Action Team,’ and I guess should just have been called ‘MAT’ but was indeed called the ‘MAT Team.’). Oh, the MAT Team, we were responsible for… I don’t know, we did stuff, all kinds of stuff. We had a lock-in once and discussed things and ate pizza. And I wanted to be their President. It definitely offered more prestige than being President of the National Junior Honor Society, of which I was also a member. But no one cared what the smarties were up to, so their leader had no real power among the students.
Well, one particular day I decided I wanted to stay home from school. Because I was such a good student, my mother would allow me to stay home occasionally if I wanted. So, I was home watching TV and taking it easy at four o’clock-ish when the terrible news came down the pike – they had had a MAT Team meeting after school and they sprang the officer elections on them and Shannon Beard was elected. Ugh! Why was the world conspiring against me to get anything cool?!
Luckily, there was this fantastic black teacher that came on the scene at around that time – her name was Janice Dilworth. Stylish, young and dynamic, she taught 7th grade Texas History and was the first teacher to ever care about me as a person. And I needed that. I mean, I wouldn’t say I was troubled, but middle school is tough. Girls can be very mean, and were, to me. I sat alone at lunch eating Little Debbies for more than one day of my life, I can tell you that. Thank goodness for my one friend Shea Shockley — she and I were like the girls in “Square Pegs,” but since I was fat and had glasses, I could have been either one. But really I was the fat one.
So when Miss Dilworth told me they were starting up a cheerleading squad and wanted me to be the captain, it was pret-ty eff-ing cool.
Now, we couldn’t be called cheerleaders; we had to be called “Spirit Leaders” for some legal reason. But there would be pom poms, megaphones, skirts with pleats – everyone would know what we were, come on.
Miss Dilworth called an informal meeting for all 7th and 8th grade girls interested in being on this new squad. Much needed to be explained to these girls, not the least of which was all the legal mumbo jumbo. I stood at the front with Miss Dilworth, looking down at all those eager faces in the standing-room-only classroom. As she spoke, I nodded along – ‘cause I was already in the know about all of it, y’all. She announced that there would be no tryout, and that she, as the sponsor, and me, as the captain, would be hand-selecting the squad.
She adjourned the meeting and handed me a clipboard with which to gather the hopefuls’ names. I had never seen so many people looking at me all at once! In that moment, all those assholes were lamenting the wrongs they had committed against me: this one girl was regretting calling me a scum in the girls’ bathroom… another was wishing she hadn’t ditched me at the fair for peeing in my pants on the tilt-a-whirl. I was able to bring my one friend Shea on board, which felt right.
Concurrently, I started to take gymnastics classes, knowing that at the high school level of cheerleading, they’d be looking for more than just the vocal projecting, general enthusiasm, and the knowing of the football players names I had down pat. See, a spot on the high school cheerleading squad as a freshman basically guaranteed your success in life. Right away, your face is out there at every pep rally; everyone knows your name because it’s embroidered on your uniform. You’d then then get voted into other things, like Student Council and Class Favorite. And cheerleaders always had dates to all the dances and then got made Queens of all the dances. You’d marry well and be set forever!
Gymnastics classes were a disaster. I was neither a skilled nor trainable gymnast.
So it was no surprise when I didn’t make the freshman squad. No, wait, it was a huge surprise! Even though I should have known that I was not one of the best 6 girls, I only did the math in the moments before the names were called. Then I wept openly right where I sat in the bleachers.
The cheer sponsor, Mrs. Gregory, flitted over and asked if I was hurt. I couldn’t lie, I said no, I was just sad. She scuttled away, sighing, as if she was concerned over nothing.
Then, the 6 names were announced, not mine, and those 6 girls went nuts. As well they should have! They had it made from then on and they knew it. I went home and cried and cried. Mom knew the drill: in times of great sadness or celebration, she’d take me to Red Lobster. And then we’d hit the Tom Thumb supermarket and rent movies starring my favorite actor, Rutger Hauer. (I even liked the weird ones like the one with the bird eggs and Powers Boothe.) Mom would go out of her way to try to make me feel better. “Next year,” she’d say. And I’d believe her.
But we were wrong. It took 3 more tries. I finally made the squad my senior year, and I was only able to manage that because that year there were only 13 girls trying out for 12 spots and there was one girl that was somehow a worse cheerleader than me. I can’t remember what had decimated the numbers, but I seem to recall it was the no pass/no play rule, and apparently a lot of good cheerleaders were also dum dums. But no matter – I was on the cheerleading squad! I was finally a damn cheerleader!
Pretty straight away, though, I was miserable – we practiced early in the morning and in the 100+ degree Texas heat. Sometimes you got kicked in the face when you dropped someone. I whined about all this during cheerleading camp, and Rachel Meyer accused me of only being a cheerleader because I wanted to be popular, since I was being such a big jerk. Mrs. Gregory backed her up. Rachel cried, I cried. I will say, it did make me work harder, someone calling me out and embarrassing me like that. This memory makes me chuckle, though, as Rachel and I became good friends and still are to this day.
Cheerleading actually turned out to be sort of awesome. I mean, it didn’t transform my life like I thought it would — but it did make me work hard for something that wasn’t just for myself. And it did keep me from having to pick out an outfit to wear to school on game Fridays.
Our squad ended up going to NCA Nationals in 1987. And and we placed 17th in the land! Here was the sweatshirt I bought from a kiosk that day.
It has stains on it from my college days when we painted our sorority house mother’s parking space, a task I was responsible for for some reason. I chose a water-based paint, because I was 20. The day after we painted it, it rained (it was Florida), and the paint washed away from the concrete. It did not wash away from the sweatshirt, however.
Take all of this into account. I look forward to your thoughts.