Fall brings out my cheerleader envy.
When I was growing up, when the leaves changed and the weather cooled, it meant two things: the annual deer hunt and football games.
Since my dad owned the local dairy, he sponsored and coached the Snow Dairy little league football team.
While my brothers dreamed of wearing shoulder pads and helmets, I dreamed of wearing the red and white cheerleading outfit.
From the time I was about 10 years old, I thought I was destined to be a Snow Dairy cheerleader.
From August to November, we spent every Wednesday and Friday night at the football field, cheering for the Snow Dairy football team.
I sat in the bleachers wrapped in a patchwork quilt next to my mother and envied the cheerleaders, hoping that someday I would wear a red pleated skirt and punch red and white pompoms in the air while leading the fans in a Go-Fight-Win cheer.
I still remember the excitement when we won the championship and all the boys hoisted my dad on their shoulders. They carried him across the field while shouting, “We’re number one!”
Finally, the summer before ninth grade, I was old enough to try out.
I had watched so many cheerleaders over the years, I was sure I knew how to be one.
They did a lot of bouncing and yelling.
I could bounce and yell.
It looked so easy.
Trust me, I had cheerleader skills. I’d taken years of dance and tumbling from Mrs. Killpack. (I still have one of the dance recital programs as proof, dated April 24-25, 1969)
I had a killer cart-wheel.
With my tumbling skills, loud voice, and energetic personality, I had it all.
But, by the time try-outs came along, I knew my squad was in trouble. We weren’t as cute and coordinated as we thought.
Honestly, we were a ragtag group of leftovers that nobody else wanted on their squad.
(Sorry if you’re reading this Kay, Patty, Joan, and Cindy but you know it’s true.)
Still, we gave it our best.
We perfected our “Spirit” cheer — “S-P-I-R-I-T, spirit, drive, ability! Shout it out with all your might. Fight team fight!”
We knew we could nail that cheer, and we did, with one little problem… We spelled spirit wrong.
Spirit is probably the most important quality for a cheer squad, and not only did we spell it wrong, we were an uninspiring lot.
Even though I shouted out with all my might and performed that flawless cart-wheel, our squad did not get chosen.
Crestfallen and glum, I schlepped past all the happy, buoyant girls who made it and vowed I’d never go to another football game for the rest of my life.
The last thing I wanted to do was watch those stupid, chipper cheerleaders.
As soon as football season started again, I forgot about my never-go-again vow and joined the family for our fall ritual of heading to the football field twice a week.
I sat on the bleachers next to my loser cheerleader friends and we watched our coordinated, peppy friends lead cheers, and we wondered what they had that we didn’t.
I made myself feel better by thinking things like, “who cares about being a goofy cheerleader anyway?”
I didn’t need to embarrass myself by doing those absurd spread eagle v-jumps and squealing like a silly girl over a dumb touchdown.
I convinced myself that cheerleading was overrated. My failed cheerleader dream faded over time but many years later, I went to a luncheon at the National Press Club to listen to Jane Pauley, who was then one of NBC’s Today Show hosts. She gave a nice speech and then took questions from the audience and someone asked her if she had any regrets.
Without hesitating, she said, “Yes. I never made cheerleader!”
Suddenly, ninth grade cheerleading tryouts were as vivid as that dry, hot day in August when we tried out on the grassy lot next to the tennis courts across the street from the junior high school.
In my mind, I relived that cheerleader rejection moment.
And Jane Pauley knew that moment!
I almost laughed aloud as I realized I wasn’t the only girl in the world with cheerleader envy!
I felt a new kinship with Jane Pauley, my all-of-a-sudden close colleague and newfound best friend.
Then she said, “I felt a little better about myself when I found out Diane Keaton didn’t make cheerleading either.”
Suddenly, Diane Keaton, Jane Pauley and I were soul sisters.
We were all part of the “Aspiring-Cheerleaders-Who-Never-Made-it-Club.”
Perhaps my favorite cheerleader reject was Erma Bombeck.
She said that she could walk into a room and tell with 90 percent accuracy which women were cheerleaders.
When she received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater she said, “When I stood up to make my acceptance speech, it all came back.
“Cheerleader Tryouts: 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, in the gym… I knew every single word of the cheers. Every movement was flawless. I jumped like I had springs in my feet. I was the only one who did the entire routine carrying a handbag. As I looked out over the crowd of well-wishers, I clutched the leather-bound honorary degree and blurted out to her old school, “Don’t try to make up now. It’s too late. Where were you when I had fat thighs and a cheerleader wish?”
Touch`e, Erma Bombeck.