By Ricky Hatch
Let’s talk about cheerleaders. Yep, that’s right. A couple of Saturdays ago, I volunteered to help at our county’s fairgrounds, where they were having a regional cheer competition. I arrived at 6:30 AM, and it was obvious that they knew all about me and my skill set, because they gave me the very important task of sitting by a door that nobody ever uses. I could direct people to the nearest restroom, leer disapprovingly at anyone not wearing a mask, and serve as an exemplary public ambassador in my bright yellow t-shirt.
Yeah, it was a big deal.
Throughout the day, I caught up on a lot of overdue reading, stacks of BYU’s Alumni magazines and Hillsdale College’s Imprimis publications.
I also saw hundreds of cheerleaders from age four to seventeen. The scene was very much as you might expect: hair ribbons, big hair, scrunchies, mega mascara, excessive eye shadow, lots of lipstick, unnecessarily exposed navels, skin-tight spandex, glitter galore, sparkly sequins, smoochy-lipped selfies, tears, laughter, and hugs.
I also saw a lot of (*cue dramatic music) cheer moms. Actually, there were quite a few cheer dads as well. And they weren’t ashamed. Many of them wore matching sweatshirts that celebrated their subservience to the cheer club culture.
There were sporty cheer-parents, cowboy cheer-parents, and pretty much every other kind of cheer parent, and I realized these were loving parents who would proudly support their child, regardless of the sport or skill involved.
Still, I’ve heard a lot about these cheer moms, and I view them somewhat like the moms on that reality TV show Dance Moms. You know, the one where the moms are reliving their youth vicariously through their offspring, where the adults fight, argue, and care much more about who wins than their poor toddlers ever would. I feel bad for their kids, and I admit I’m a little judgmental of the parents.
So there I sat, providing periodic potty placement assistance, and reading.
For. Seven. Hours.
And I couldn’t even see the performances. My door was just outside the open-door to the upper arena. But boy, could I hear! The announcer excitedly introduced teams called Intensity, Eclipse, Galaxy, Titan, and Fusion.
Then this high-pitched screaming filled the air. I envisioned a small group of cheer moms, with face paint and signs, screaming their lungs out to show support for their kids and their cheer studio. These screams surged throughout the 5-minute performance, set to some upbeat remix of techno hip hop that pretty much sounded exactly the same for each performance.
Sometimes the cheers were louder and longer. I’d occasionally ditch my door duty just long enough to see what cheer squad was garnering the extra attention. I never saw what the big deal was about. Yeah, coordinated flips, pyramids, basket tosses and cradle catches, but nothing special. It was fun to watch the athleticism as well as the cute toddlers wondering what to do next. But I couldn’t see a strong correlation between the noise and the level of talent.
Given how competitive these people are, I wondered if the goal of screaming was more to influence the judges than to support the kids.
And then, after about five hours, comes this absolute uproar. The entire arena is hysterical, way louder than ever before, and the screaming continues throughout the entire song. I think this must be either the absolute best squad or perhaps the largest squad, to get that many fanatic parents screaming for them.
Finally, I can’t resist – I have to see how big or impressive this squad is. I walk into the arena. Every person in the stands is standing and cheering, even the other cheer squads. Wow, I think, this must be the showcase squad of the entire event! I wonder if maybe the sponsors paid to bring some popular group in to inspire the participants.
And then I look down to the squad and my jaw drops.
There, on the stage, is a team of six teenage girls with Down Syndrome. While their cheer outfits match, their movements do not. But that doesn’t matter at all to the hundreds of cheer moms, dads, and kids cheering their hearts out to support these girls. Even as I type this, I get teary eyed.
Stereotypes be damned! This was the greatest show of sportsmanship and love I’ve seen in years, by a group of good people whom I had previously, and absolutely improperly, judged.
Those five minutes made my month, made me repent, and renewed my faith in our future.
This experience deserves two word origins:
Spirit – First used in English in the mid-13th Century, it’s based on the Latin spiritus, meaning “a breath (respiration, and of the wind), breath of a god, inspiration, character, vigor, courage, and pride.”
Cheer – First in use in the late 1300s, meaning, “to humor or console,” it also came to mean, “to encourage by words or deeds” and “to salute with shouts of applause.”