I was a cheerleader throughout my junior high and high school years. Back in those days (Boy! That sounds OLD!), we had separate high school football and basketball cheerleading squads. For some reason – maybe it’s a Texas and high school sports thing – the ones with the highest scores during cheerleading tryouts secured a place on the football season squad.
Looking back, I actually liked basketball more than football PLUS being a basketball cheerleader allowed you to dance with the drill team during football season AND cheer during basketball season. Best of both worlds, right? Wrong. Because the highest scoring girls were placed on the football squad, there was much more prestige and recognition surrounding the honor of being selected as a football cheerleader. Hey, don’t get mad at me. It’s just the way things were.
I made football cheerleader my junior year. I loved it. I didn’t particularly care for the game of football, but I adored the excitement and the attention that came with Friday night lights. I can still feel the crisp Fall air and hear the sound of the high school marching band. It really didn’t matter that I didn’t understand what a “down” was or what “penalty” meant. I just followed the lead of the head cheerleader by doing the cheers she selected. I was just happy to be part of the process.
As my junior year came to an end, cheerleading tryouts were scheduled on the calendar. With full confidence, I signed up and proudly checked, “Football Cheerleader” as my option on the ballot. Candidates had the choice of football, basketball or either. I couldn’t imagine myself any other place than on the field every Friday night at the football game.
In preparation for the day of tryouts, I purchased my cheer outfit, bought maroon and gold barrettes for my hair, and selected the cheer to perform during my solo portion of the contest. I developed a strategy. I would perform a brand new cheer in order to stand out for the judges. All the other girls seem to be picking the same cheer. I prided myself for my willingness to be different.
During the last two weeks before competition, I coached my best friend and my boyfriend on the words and beat to my new cheer. It was so exciting to try something new! I could hardly contain my enthusiasm believing my plan was a sure thing. My boyfriend, my best friend, and my mother faithfully memorized and recited the words to my all-new cheer. We were all set. Or were we?
Part of the grading system during cheerleader tryouts is how well the individual competitor and the preliminary squads fire up the crowd. When it came my turn for my solo performance, I jumped from my seat, ran across the floor, fired up a cheering crowd, stood in place and yelled, “Ready. Ok!” I began to perform the motions, jumps and turns of my selected cheer. To my dismay, there were only three voices coming from the very confused crowd – my mother, my boyfriend and my very timid best friend.
My strategy was a flop. No one, but those three, knew the cheer. When my solo was complete, I ran back to my assigned chair shaking in my cute little tennis shoes. I was mortified! I didn’t dare make eye contact with my mother knowing that I would cry. I sat there wondering if I should yell with the other girls knowing they were my competition or refuse to cheer along hoping to reduce their scores.
As the tryouts came to an end, two sets of names were called. I was one of the first names in the first round and I leapt from my seat. After calling all the other names, they separated us into two groups. Each group was assigned a cheer by the panel of judges. I found myself out yelling everyone in my group hoping I could repair some of the damage done by my unknown cheer. I tried very hard to prove to the judges that I had an “outside voice,” which would be perfect for an outside sport. Like football.
I have to admit, I knew I hadn’t made the football squad. I looked around my assigned group and they were all previous basketball cheerleaders. I looked at the second group and they were all former football cheerleaders, except for one. It was obvious. They’d moved her “up” and me “down.” As my mind tried to wrap itself around the disappointment, I thought, “Wait! I didn’t sign up for basketball cheerleader! I didn’t pick the “Either” option. Could it be? Could it be that I kept my prestigious football spot and all the other girls switched places due to ratings? Could it be?!”
The truth was revealed in a matter of minutes. They called out the highest scores first and formed the new football squad. My name was not called.
Then, our sponsor announced, “And here are next year’s basketball cheerleaders…” The first name out of her mouth was mine. I smiled trying to hide my shock, my wounded heart, my embarrassment, my hurt, and my disappointment. How did this happen?
A few days later, once my wounded ego started to heal, my cheer sponsor called me into her office. She explained I had fallen short by only a small margin in the scoring. I was almost a returning football cheerleader. However, my rating for “ability to motivate the crowd” was very, very low. My teacher knew that I took a risk, stepped out on a limb, and chose a brand new cheer. She had all the background knowledge needed to understand the situation and she made the decision to change my card from “Football” to “Either.” My wise cheer sponsor knew that my overconfidence boxed me in and reduced my options. She used the experience to teach me to always be willing to entertain a variety of possibilities.
My senior year allowed me to dance on the drill team for one last football season. It also allowed me to cheer during basketball season for I game I not only enjoyed, but I understood. It still hurt. But, I accepted the outcome.
Recognition is a slippery slope. One where we must always juggle ego with humility. An award is something that strokes our ego. It feels good but is only temporary. A reward is something that awaits us in Heaven. A reward is based on our willingness to serve others in God’s name while an award is something others give us with our name on it. Things that really matter have eternal value. The other things really do not matter.