37: A Cheerleader for Life

37: A Cheerleader for Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

A Cheerleader for Life

All of us are stars and deserve the right to twinkle.

~Marilyn Monroe

I’d practiced hard all summer, honing my skills. I did high kicks, straight moves and even smiled through a cartwheel. I had reached a goal I’d dreamed of since I was in grammar school. I’d been chosen to be a cheerleader! Me! I could not have asked for more; my prayer was answered. I knew it was going to be a great year as I planned on cheering my heart out for my junior high school.

Cheerleading tryouts had been difficult. Even though I had the moves and rhythm down, I doubted I would be picked. Surely they would choose the gorgeous girls rather than the girl-next-door type. Popularity had to be a prerequisite, I concluded. Although I was an honor student and well liked, I was not part of the “in crowd.”

On the day the selections were made, I waited anxiously as the Cheer Director counted the votes. When my name was among the seven announced winners, I couldn’t believe my ears!

Some of my friends had tried out as well, but there was no jealousy when I won the position. My attitude was one of gratefulness and humility. I could cheer and still be a really good friend.

The only drawback came in the form of a small, athletic woman more than twice my age. Her name was Miss Abbot and she was the cheerleading coach as well as P.E. teacher. Although she was a pretty thing, she had a pointed nose that would turn ruby red when she was angry. Her eyes could pierce through you like a dagger. I decided I never ever wanted to cross her.

Nothing I did that summer even won me a “Good job, Ginger,” from Miss Abbot. A smile from her was a rarity. Until then, my teachers had given me praise for my efforts in keeping a straight-A average, so I treated cheerleading just like I did my studies. I hoped that, in time, I would win the coach’s approval.

Cheer Camp was enlightening and I quickly bonded with the other girls. Shopping for our uniforms, taking photos, and practicing daily left little time for other activities. The school year began with a heavy schedule. At the end of each day I was pooped, yet no one, including Miss Abbot, knew what I had to contend with at home.

Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, my Mom had been sick since I was thirteen. I hated to see her suffer. My Dad was a good father, but he was an alcoholic. I rarely brought anyone home for fear of embarrassment.

It felt like I was living a double life between home and school. I worried daily about my mother’s condition while I pretended everything was fine. Mom actually made it to one of our football games that year to watch me cheer. She never came again, though, as her health steadily declined.

Soon, the insecurity of my world began to show in my cheerleading. I mastered the routines, but Miss Abbot began picking on me anyway. “Ginger, what kind of cheerleader can you be if you stick your tongue out to the side like that?” She criticized. I guess I hadn’t noticed my strange tongue habit. She intimidated me with those critical daggers. Her pointed nose flaring open and closed, like a bull preparing to charge its target, definitely clued me in on her disappointment. Nevertheless, the more I tried to tame my tongue, the more insecure I became.

Miss Abbot never asked me about my family or anything personal, for that matter. She could not see that I was struggling to find my bearings at a very tumultuous time in my life. She apparently had no clue as to how her words might affect a young girl’s self-esteem. Miss Abbot was unaware that my Mom was dying. My performance was all that mattered to her. The cheer squad was serious business to her, for sure.

One day at practice, I was shot with another one of her lethal looks. On this occasion, Miss Abbot stopped our routine, and singled me out in front of the girls. Pointing her finger at me, she yelled, “You’re still doing that thing with your tongue, Ginger! You will never be successful in cheerleading, or anything else for that matter, with your tongue sticking out of the side of your mouth. It looks stupid!”

At that point, you could hear a blade of grass grow on that field, and I felt my face turning as red as her nose. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I gulped back my emotion and agreed quickly with a “Yes Ma’am.”

She was right. I’m sure it looked stupid, but now I felt stupid. From that moment on, I concentrated harder on keeping my tongue in my mouth as I led the cheers for the crowd.

Eventually the annoying habit disappeared, but the hurtful comments lingered.

In between graduating from junior high and starting high school, I lost some of the confidence I had gained. I decided not to try out for any extracurricular activities.

A year later, I got the dreaded call at school that there was a family emergency. I lost my Mom that April. She was my best friend. Three years later, my Dad passed away.

After that, I made some wrong choices in life, which nearly caused Miss Abbot’s words to be true. Fortunately for me, God intervened, and He became the anchor I hung onto for dear life.

I knew that one day He would make sense of it all, and He did. Four years after graduation, I married my high school sweetheart, and was blessed with three wonderful children who I have cheered on each day of their lives.

At a trophy ceremony for my son’s Little League team, I was awarded “Best Team Mom and Cheerleader ever.” My husband and my kids smiled proudly at me. We joked about the award, but my success in life was evident in the faces of my family and the friends who filled my world with “good cheer.” The love and approval that was mutually invested came back to me day after day. It sure didn’t take a performance to see that. I could not have asked for more.

Through the years, I’ve thought about those hurtful words spoken to me at the impressionable age of fourteen, and how desperately I wanted Miss Abbot’s approval. An utterance by someone in authority can often make a difference in how we view ourselves. It’s a shame that she didn’t really know how to “cheer.”

Now, there’s probably a lesson to be learned here, but in this case, I’d say it was more for the teacher than for the student. As for me, I can assure you that I have successfully become—with tongue in cheek—a “cheerleader for life!”

~Ginger Boda

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