Updated: Oct 3, 2019
I feel like a little girl all over again when I got the idea to actually sit down and put my years as a cheerleader in writing. It's literally one of the key aspects of who I am today and I can't believe I forgot about it. It's probably another reason why I've always wanted a daughter. I'd still take it and run with it even if my boys ever show an interest in cheerleading. Either way it goes, this momma isn't squeezing these mile wide hips into any skirts or spankies ever again. For any of my former cheermates that may be reading this, don't worry, I'm still taking our secrets to the grave.
Once upon a time, over two decades ago, you'd see yours truly at 3 years old running beside my mom with a 2 year old Mia struggling to hold up the smallest skirt we could order for her. We were two of the cutest things you could have ever laid your eyes on. In our purple, gold, and white uniforms, sometimes wearing our hair with a gold throwback scrunchie wrapped around the bulky buns that sat on top of our tiny heads or we'd have our hair braided into pigtails with beads matching our team colors (I'm honestly surprised that hair beads haven't been considered a form of child abuse by now. They hurt like you wouldn't believe and no one knows how glad I am that those days are over). We were two adorable little girls cheering for the Braves every weekend at the Vic Nystrom Stadium for as long as I could remember (I cheered. Mia would stand there with her arms folded across her chest with an attitude because we weren't doing her favorite cheer. They actually had to pick her up and reach her across the fence to our aunt one time because she was being so stubborn and wouldn't move a muscle).
Bring It On (a true classic) was my favorite movie back when I was little. When I was able to quote the movie word for word and tried to learn most of the routines and dance to the music, I'm pretty sure that Momma knew right away that cheerleading was going to stick with me for the rest of my life. I kept at it through elementary school, transitioning from purple and gold as a part of the Braves to maroon and gold as an Eagle. I can't say that cheerleading was the first thing to make me a nervous wreck, but it's definitely on my list. I can say that it was what gave me my confidence. It made me a show off.
I was even more excited when the time came for me to take my first steps through the doors of Mount View. I know that I'd be surrounded by brand new faces, and I was actually able to let cheerleading consume a much bigger portion of my life. Even learning the new skills excited me when all I was used to doing was cartwheels and round offs on the playground when I was younger. I was incredibly comfortable because Bunny Vineyard had been my cheer coach when I first got into it as a little kid. Not to mention all of my friends from elementary school came along as well.
I shit you not, try outs nearly tore me apart both physically and mentally. There had to have been at least thirty girls there the first few days and only thirteen of us would make the cut. My legs and every other muscle in my body hurt to the point of bringing me to tears. We ran our asses off, we jumped, we flipped, and we stunted. I even surprised myself with how quickly I was able to keep up and catch on when learning the chants and floor cheers. It was as intense as I imagined. With everything we learned to do, I quickly realized that cheerleading was much more complex than strolling around a sporting event in a skirt with a bow in your hair and that made me love it even more.
When it was all said and done, the middle school took the Golden Knight as their mascot just like the high school (that was literally in the exact same building that was connected by the cafeteria and a hallway). Caitlyn Ball, Amber Shirley, Julia Harsayne, Karli Warren, Jasmine Perry, Shiann Brooks, Traci Walters, Amber Allen, Chelsea Stone, Rebekah Snow, Holiday George, Aysha Flowers, and myself included made it through what seemed like the biggest culture shock I've ever experienced. We were the 2007-2008 Mount View Middle School cheerleaders and we were going to be stuck with one another for the next six months, so the first and most important thing we learned was to get along and learn to act like family.
My middle school years as a cheerleader opened my eyes up to a lot of crazy shit. In sixth grade, I was small, chubby, and I could be incredibly shy and quiet at times. I was innocent and blind to the things waiting for me when the time came for me to go into high school. The most memorable event was when someone pointed out that men old enough to be my grandfather got a thrill out of seeing eleven, twelve, and thirteen year old girls walking around in skirts. It made me feel dirty just from thinking about it. Eventually that led to me having an extreme aversion to any male that wasn't my age and that has stuck with me to this day and it always reared it's ugly head and made me crumble every time I put on a uniform. I didn't want to be an object of a fetish for an old pervert and I didn't want that for my friends either. The first and only time my mom ever asked me about it, I wanted to burst into tears because I was so terrified. Of course there were the assholes that took to saying that they wouldn't have anything to look at if our skirts weren't so short (they weren't. The WVSSAC rules did a great job at regulating our uniforms and how we presented ourselves). We could have been walking around showing our bare asses and that still wouldn't have given any old man the right to look at us sexually. Pedophilia is wrong. Bottom line. All of that still makes me sick to my stomach to this very day.
As time went on, the crew that I left Welch Elementary with weren't little girls anymore and there was no denying it or hiding it. We started having our periods, growing breasts, and got a few curves. With that came body image issues and raging hormones. With the raging hormones came being boy crazy about boys older than us that had no problem voicing their sexual desires and intentions and attempting to express them and of course, our parents weren't having that shit when they still looked at us as their babies even though we were changing so quickly. I know for a fact that I didn't even want my mom to think that I wanted to even kiss a boy at that age (I swear to God, I thought I was going to have a heart attack when a girl started a rumor that I was going to have sex with a boy that I was calling my boyfriend after prom and I didn't want it to get back to Momma. I know who you are bitch and I'm beating you at life).
I was a totally different person when middle school came to an end. I almost felt tainted. With a nose ring and even more confidence, on my 14th birthday, I stuck with cheerleading, this time with Cathy Jack taking me under her wing. I felt like I was on top of the world and there's no other way to describe how it felt. I never realized how badly I'd always wanted this. I began to remember how much I admired the high school cheerleaders when I was a little girl and I'd tag along with Paw Paw and Granny when they would go to the games.
We'd be here all night if I told you stories from my freshman year. We'll just say that it was one hell of a ride because we all promised to take those secrets and memories to the grave. With Brittany Burks and I being the only freshmen on the squad that year, it felt like the veterans were our big sisters (this was the era of the Jersey Shore and we were often called the Meatballs like Snooki and Deena because of how tiny we were and you bet your ass that we got into more shit than you could ever imagine, including trying to reverse one of Brittany's monstrous poofs held together by three cans of hairspray. We often referred to ourselves as Salt and Pepper and still do today). We were all fairly good girls that wore our halo's as Cathy's Angel's and none of us dared to deviate from that. Ms. Jack was legendary and she could snatch up your entire existence in the blink of an eye. We wore our masks with pride, batting our eyelashes and smiling whenever necessary, being good girls when in the public eye to please our parents and teachers. When they weren't looking, we cut up like most teenage girls did and we had each other's backs every step of the way, covering anything that needed covering. It's amazing that half of us are even still alive (I know that more than a few of us were fisted down by our moms at one point or by the grace of God, we narrowly escaped a concussion from something being lobbed at our heads).
Cheerleading at that point gave me a sense of belonging. Ms. Jack was one of the first people to have high hopes for me. She would often boast about how she'd anxiously waited for me to be one of her cheerleaders ever since she met me at the age of eleven. We may have been bad behind closed doors, but like I mentioned before, she put the fear of God in us. We were afraid of her wrath if she got angry, but we were even more afraid of disappointing her. She was and still is the cheer coach of all cheer coaches, holding the position as the longest running cheer coach in McDowell County for more than thirty years. That relationship with Ms. Jack made me feel like I belonged even more. She taught me to always remain classy, kill people with kindness, and treat my name like a brand that I'd never let anyone or anything tarnish. I struggle sometimes, but since moving to Huntington and starting fresh, I think I've done a pretty good job with making sure my name is an untarnished brand.
You've heard about how wild my life was outside of being a cheerleader. Even when I try to think about what went on throughout my teens without cheering, I draw a blank. Back then cheerleading was my life. Every aspect of my life was influenced by it and I loved the way it made me feel. After feeling like I'd hit rock bottom in 2011, dyed my hair, and pierced my lip for the second time after everyone in the county thought I was dead, I decided to try to only focus on school, cheerleading, and protecting my heart and my image. I walked around feeling good and bubbly. It sounds stupid, but it felt like I was an aspiring Miss America at one point. You'd see me walking the halls proudly with a smile on my face, occasionally waving at strangers that noticed me cheering at games and in the sports posters that came out every season. I didn't mind at all and I didn't feel the need to act so shy. I was willing to be a friend to anyone and I felt like I was in a fairly good headspace.
That's when I was the most serious about cheerleading. Due to the fact that I cheered since freshman year, my junior year, I was made captain. It felt like I was Ms. Jack's right hand and I took the role as captain more serious because of the fact that she'd spent the summer battling cancer. I made sure that my squad was pristine just like she would have wanted us to be if she was in tip top shape. We wore all ten uniforms that were older than all of us with pride (yes, we had ten and they were known as 32, Sparkle, Fly Away, Stretchie Back, Swirlie, Castle Top, Competition with the matching bows and sparkly spankies, the Romper, and our two warm ups, with the gold one being retired and luckily I still have mine. Can't say that these boobs and hips can squeeze into it, but I have it. We also had a fabulous array of bows for every occasion). I took a lot of pride in representing the cheerleaders in Homecoming and whenever else I needed to. I worked hard and busted my ass because I knew that if my life revolved around it, then I had the potential to keep doing it in college and I was definitely going to always give it my all. I aimed to be the center of attention because as captain, my image reflected on my squad.
It was nothing to see me trying to show off. I wanted to be the loudest and jump the highest and make sure that all eyes were on me (I'm a Leo. I'm vain. Get over it). With my hair framing my face in neat little curls, decorated with a tiny gold boy like the cherry on top of the perfect sundae, you'd see me blow a kiss to the crowd and wave my hand at the crowd with a pristine smile whenever they called my name. I thrived off of the attention from the crowd (would you believe that I eventually developed a phobia of large crowds?).
Even though cheerleading was my life, I still couldn't fight seasonal depression and constant loneliness. I kept it all contained through the winter months even when the cold weather made me want to have someone by my side to make the world feel a little less cold. We didn't practice or have hardly any games in the winter time because of the weather so it was a lot harder to keep my mind off of feeling so lonely. I would panic because of the thought that my time as a cheerleader was quickly fading and there was a chance that I would never hold a pair of pom poms ever again. That gave me a lot of anxiety. I never wanted to give up and spend my life wandering around aimlessly because I loved my life as a cheerleader more than anything. It was the only thing I knew.
Early October of my junior year while waiting to get on the bus, a tall middle school boy covered in home made tattoos that seemed a bit rough around the edges bumped into me (it wasn't accidental and you can tell him I said so. We'd spent a few days sending an occasional message or two to each other on Facebook. Earlier in the same week when I was doing work for yearbook class in the auditorium, he came up to my table for school pictures and I'm pretty sure he scared the shit out of me and I called him a heathen). He asked for a hug and pulled me in for one, towering over me completely. I'll be honest and say that I wasn't entirely interested in the beginning because my reputation was the exact opposite from his. I wasn't perfect and I didn't have a squeaky clean past, but I was naive to some of the things he did and experienced. Me seeing him for the very first time was just like a white lady clutching her purse and scared out of her mind as she passed a group of thugs. I saw myself as a diamond, finally shining after all of the pressure from my sophomore year and he was still a lump of coal. I know that sounds bitchy, but it's the best way to describe who we were back then. He'd never spent time with someone like me with the way I was raised and I had never spent time with someone like him and the way he was raised.
He'd even missed his bus a time or two when I was at practice. He would even hang out by the lower end of the football field where I would cheer. Everything he did fed into my hunger for attention that cheerleading helped create. He was jealous and possessive because he knew that I had the potential to do better than him.
Our relationship was toxic to say the least and it was incredibly rocky, but ten months later, I was squeezing into my uniforms for sports picture day with the little gummy bear that would eventually become Draven nestled in my womb that was covered by my spankies, skirt, and top. My pregnancy meant that my time as a cheerleader was going to come to an end a lot sooner than I initially thought. People were shocked. Some still didn't believe it during Homecoming when I walked across the field as cheer representative for the very last time wearing an all leather outfit with matching leather thigh high boots. But it finally clicked when they saw me inhale a large strawberry milkshake in the freezing cold.
I was able to let it all go and hang up cheerleading for good when I was roughly four and a half months pregnant. My belly continued to grow with my baby continuing to thrive and I couldn't fit any of my uniforms anymore. Becoming a mom made it a lot easier for me to retire after 14 long years of cheering that I would forever cherish for the rest of my life. Even though it could have taken me somewhere bigger than where I am now, I looked forward to being a mom even more. I wouldn't want things to be any other way. I loved cheering more than I thought I could love anything until I fell in love with a fuzzy little ultrasound photo of a figure shaped like a jelly bean that became my son and the center of my universe. I really did have a much bigger purpose in life and I know that cheerleading had a hand in making me the type of person that goes hard for something that I love and care about. Ultimately, I made one of the biggest sacrifices in my life to serve my purpose as a mom.