Friends, Memoir

Cheerleader Envy

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.

Original founders of the Springville Little League Football program. My dad is on the left end of the front row.

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.


4 thoughts on “Cheerleader Envy”

  1. Not that I qualify to be included in the well-known group of women you have mentioned, but I, too, am a cheerleader reject. I was in the 7th grade when I faced that supreme challenge to my self-esteem. I think I will blog about my experience! I am sure it influenced my future behavior several years down the road.

  2. I never aspired to be a cheerleader. I spent most of high school recovering from knee surgeries, but I thought it was a badge of honor to be seen as one of the smart girls that were’t associated with the popular cheerleaders. I admit, I did buy a pair of those cool saddle shoes that the cheerleaders wore. I wore them to National Honor Society and Future Teachers of America meetings. Then I grew up, marred a nerd and raised a flock of little nerdlings – happily ever after.

  3. Laurie,
    You brought back memories! My daughter was tearful and dejected when I picked her up from junior high cheerleader tryouts. A few minutes after we got home, the doorbell rang. Some of her friends were there with a plate of cookies and a note that said, “We don’t care what those stupid judges thought. You’re number one with us!”
    I heard lots of laughter coming from the living room as they spent the rest of the night watching TV and talking. That night she found out that life can sometimes be disappointing, but it’s great to have friends to help see us through those disappointments.
    Ironically, an attorney representing two other girls who didn’t make cheerleader showed up at the school that Monday morning demanding the score sheets. The parents threatened a lawsuit due to a technicality. The school district caved, and those girls were added to the squad. I can’t help but wonder who gained the most, in the long run — those girls whose parents didn’t take no for an answer and got to spend the year being a cheerleader; or my daughter, who learned to accept disappointment and get on with the rest of her life.

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