To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, I was a cheerleader. From seventh grade through my senior year, I cheered for the Scats and the Bobcats. Two girls from each of the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades comprised the Scats cheerleading squad, and three girls from each of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades cheered the Bobcats. We were divided into A and B team basketball cheerleaders, but we all stood together in the cold yelling for our winless football team.
Thayer’s school colors are Kelly green and white, and so were our cheerleading uniforms. We wore green wool pleated skirts or green wool trousers and oversized green sweaters regardless of whether we were indoors or out. In my sophomore year, however, Doris Martin and Rosie Freeman designed and made us new uniforms for basketball season: short, white cotton dresses with black and green inset pleats and a cool green stripe set asymmetrically off to the side. They were the best uniforms in the conference!
We practiced once a week, but we put in extra hours when we did a pompom dance routine. I remember doing one routine to “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees!” and one to “Last Train to Clarksville.” And now, when we get together for a class reunion or for Homecoming, we try to do some old cheers – and we surprise ourselves with the number we remember.
I wax sentimental about cheerleading today because last Saturday, I went a cheerleading competition to support my great-niece Bailey, who is a member of the Sedalia Twisters Storm Chasers team. All I can say is this: cheerleading, like the old gray mare, “ain’t what it used to be.”
First, we walked into the Mathewson Center to music playing so loudly that I couldn’t hear what my nephew was saying. It was pretty catchy, though, so I danced my way to my seat. On the way, I passed tables of “stuff” that people were selling, including teeny, tiny little shorts and tops, and stiffly starched bows that all cheerleaders must wear in order to make themselves look alike. I’m not impressed with the bows. They kind of resemble Minnie Mouse ears. But you can buy a bow in any color, or prints, or polka dots.
After we got to our seats, we watched the cheerleaders warm up. These girls don’t wear wool skirts or slacks and sweaters. They don’t wear really cool white dresses with green and black inset pleats. These girls wear tight, stretchy short-shorts and matching short tops. They wear false eyelashes and theater make-up and glitter on their hair – and their bows.
The girls, even the very young ones, were doing back walkovers, flips, round-offs, and cartwheels without messing up their bows. I was impressed. And then the competition started. I wasn’t sure what I was about to see. Would each team do a cheer and be judged on creativity and synchronicity? Would they do their tumbling moves in the cheer?
The answer: None of the above. They danced, did tumbling, and built several kinds of human pyramids, with loud, peppy music playing in the background. I heard nary a cheer.
I wasn’t sure what to think. On one hand, I like for girls to be on an athletic team and compete. I also like girls to learn about physical fitness, working out, and living active lifestyles. Thayer
offered no girls’ sports, but I saw how much Emily benefited from being on Smith Cotton’s golf and swim teams. That’s what I want for Bailey.
On the other hand, I was concerned when I saw really little girls lifting other girls into pyramid positions. I wondered whether they had been properly trained to do the lifts, and I wondered what they were doing to build their strength. Additionally, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the littlest girls being judged totally subjectively on their looks and their performances.
I finally decided that if Bailey can be on a team and support her fellow “cheerleaders,” well, then I’m mostly for it. I hope that she will train for it by building strength, getting enough sleep, eating right, and practicing. But I really hope they ditch the bows.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.