February 2012

Coolest of the cool

By Suzanne Strazza

I just spent the entire day at a middleschool basketball tournament. I actually really enjoy them and understand basketball a whole lot better than I do football. Plus I get to spend time with the other players’ parents who I rarely see outside of sports events.

But as I sat there, I noticed that Dolores, the hosting team, had cheerleaders. Honest to God, in uniform, performing routines and enthusiastically repeating words such as “rebound” and “aggressive,” cheerleaders.

Absolutely fascinating.

We don’t have middle-school cheerleaders in Mancos. Actually not even sure if we have high-school ones – all the girls I know are too busy playing sports.

But the point of all of this is that it reminded me of my school days when I was not only a cheerleader, but captain of the junior-high (seventh and eighth grades) basketball and wrestling cheerleading squad.

Oh yeah, I was hot.

Those were the beginnings of the incredibly awkward years when I was embraced by a small but great group of friends and we weren’t the total losers but we certainly were not cool. And the cool girls were the cheerleaders, and my friends and I desperately wanted to be them.

So in seventh grade, a few of us tried out for the squad, and, none of us was chosen. I have no idea why Cara or Elaine or Peggy didn’t make it but I know that since I couldn’t even do a cartwheel, the odds were stacked against me right from the start.

Devastated, we sat in our corner of the cafeteria wistfully admiring Sandy and Joan and Dawn drinking their Tabs in their cute blue-and-white jumpers surrounded by hormonal, zitty, awkward, sweaty-palmed, yet incredibly desirable basketball players. We drank milk, ate our homemade lunches and the only boys that talked to us were the ones who needed help with their math homework.

We went to every game, every match, and never took our eyes off the girls. We memorized each cheer, coveted the ability to pull off a round-off backhandspring, and sighed with envy every time Charlie Panzer, slippery with sweat, in slobbery mouth guard and hot unitard, waved to one of the gals from the mat.

At home, away from observing eyes, we relentlessly practiced those cheers, had each clap, each stomp mastered. We pretended we were on the sidelines, flirting with the players, the envy of the other gals; the real reason people came to the games.

This was during the glory days of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, before other teams were sexy and sassy, and we imagined ourselves to be from Texas.

Eighth grade rolled around and we were ready. My mother, bless her heart, had even paid for me to take gymnastics classes to master the cartwheel. (Not a prayer of me doing the round-off back-handspring.)

But try out we did and chosen we were. And then Elaine and I were designated captains. We had arrived. We were hanging with the cool gals, sporting blue-and-white polyester and saddle shoes with pom pons.

And those gals still didn’t really count us as “one of them” but from the outside, it looked like we were and that’s all that mattered.

On game days, I proudly wore my dress – white with blue, not blue with white, which told the world that I was captain. Special. Better than.

As an added bonus – our junior high and high school were really all one and the same, so not only was I strutting my stuff for eighth-graders, but I was sassing around juniors and seniors too.

I really stepped it up for my brother’s friend Roger Bart, sashaying right into an open locker and banging my head on the door. Roger, turns out, is now a famous Hollywood actor and gay as the day is long.

And the reality is, as hot and desirable as I perceived myself to be, I was actually all braces and scrawny legs (you think they’re skinny now, you should have seen them during puberty), bad Dorothy Hammill and nerdiness.

But I thought I was hot shit.

It was my glory year. I put my heart and soul into each and every word that I yelled from the sidelines. Pulled off cartwheels with great finesse and got to be the top of the pyramid. I even dated Charlie Panzer.

Roger Bart never seemed interested – wonder why.

The next year I was sent off to an all-girls’ school. I think it had something to do with flirting with boys and letting my math grades drop appallingly low.

My cheerleading career was nipped in the bud. It was short-lived, to be sure, but it was a good one.

(As an aside, we just found out that we know a Denver Broncos cheerleader. I looked her up on their website. She’s the real deal. My boys gaze upon her stunning countenance for the obvious reasons; I do, because I sense the kinship of being a part of the same tribe.)

So there I sat yesterday unable to take my eyes off the gawky gals on the sidelines, kicking the very same kicks, jumping the very same jumps that I once did, spelling out the very same chants that Sandy and Elaine and the rest of us all did, with all of their hearts and enthusiasm.

Obviously, it brought back a lot of memories, some great, some a bit uncomfortable. I don’t really miss those days, but I do miss the feeling of power.

And I could see that very same feeling written all over those cheerleaders’ faces at the game.

Go, girls!

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.