this is not the cheerleading squad. i don't have a photo of that. instead, this is one of our junior high basketball teams. i'm not sure if it is seventh or eighth grade, but i believe about eight of us cheerleaders are represented in this photo. me? i'm the doe-eyed minx third from the left in the back row; fannie you will recognize as the spindly legged no. 35.
in the spring of 1987, we were 10 seventh-graders trying out for eight spots on the next year's cheerleading squad. this was exactly as mathematically cruel as it sounds. argueably the top two graduating cheerleaders -- andrea lindquist and sarah kopersky, the duo that seemed to invent crisp arm movements and short barking declarative sentences in st. pius x's own gymnasium -- were to teach us the cheers, and walk among us suggesting better elbow placement, more sincere smiles and wicked pony tail flipping in two afterschool sessions.
tryouts were midweek. we would partner up, and perform two cheers, then join together for a grand choreography that amounted to us spelling the word v-i-c-t-o-r-y and a closing singalong of the school song.
all of this in front of a jury consisting of the eighth-grade cheerleading moms and select representatives from the lourdes high school cheerleading squad and their coach. winners would be notified immediately after tryouts, and we would be unveiled to the school during morning announcements the following day.
most of us would make the cheerleading squad. two of us would not.
looking down the badly formed not-quite straight line, there were some givens:
fannie and i could do both front walkovers and backhandsprings and had previous cheerleading experience rooting for my brother's hartman insurance youth football team;
gina p. had a sort of cheerleading birthright. she was a legacy, with two sisters who had been cheerleaders at lourdes. not to mention one of the judges was her next-door neighbor, a mother whom, for the purpose of this post will be referred to as carol snott;
neva had older brothers at lourdes and could potentially win simply because the varsity cheerleaders would recognize her as dominick's little sister;
maggie m. was about 50 pounds of prime basket-toss bones -- not that we would ever master that move.
and there were some definite outcasts infiltrating tryouts:
joan m. lived next door to an alleged whore house, and favored a thick layer of black eyeliner that seemed proof that she would be pregnant on her first try, perhaps even before eighth grade cheerleading season started. her mother wrote romance novels, and joan spent busride after busride trying to convince me that stryper was the quintessential heavy metal band;
patrine did not deserve to be a cheerleader because she had recently transfered to st. pius from one of those rinky dink small outlying towns where men wore letter jackets well beyond high school and dated sophomores.
frankly, i'm not even sure why were trying out for cheerleading. our duties included standing on the sidelines for the boys' six home basketball games. additionally, most of us also played basketball, which meant we could only cheer when our games did not conflict. mostly we would be charged with one all-school pep fest -- including a dance routine to something by milli vanilli, i believe -- and we could wear our red cheerleading skirts and white sweaters instead of our school uniform on days when we would be working a game.
still. it would suck to be one of those two who didn't make the squad.
tryouts went okay. mrs. snott gathered us in the gym to read off the names of next year's team:
blah blah fannie, me, joan m., blah blah, maggie and patrine.
no dominick's sister, no gina p., the legacy who came out of mrs. p.'s womb with cheerleading hair. we were all a little stunned. some of us dared accusatory looks in joan m.'s direction and mouthed 'go back to flipping kasson' to patrice. we filed out of the gym so we could go home and talk about the slighting on the phone.
the next day, the ten of us were called into sister patricia's office for a special meeting. the nun who was our principal told us that a miscalculation had occurred. gina and neva were supposed to make the cheerleading squad, but the varsity cheerleaders had made a mistake in tallying scores.
sister patricia looked at patrine and joan m., and told them they were being cut from the team.
this reaked of mrs. snott. maybe gina didn't make the team because her hands were double-jointed, and it kept her from making aerodynamic swipes; maybe neva had been too obnoxious or spelled c-h-i-e-f-s wrong, or maybe she didn't harness enough school spirit in her little chicken legs. by morning they had already decided to work on their basketball skills and forget this cheerleading nonsense.
but mrs. snott had contacted sister patricia. mrs. snott was this gossipy busy body who probably first wanted to see gina p. fail, then fix it for the value pack of positive emotions it would elicit during the snott's family dinner. even my mom couldn't stand her simply because both of her daughters always wore ribbons around those pony tails. "those snott girls and those stupid bows," my mom would sneer right now if i called her. i remember mrs. snott, at the meeting, explaining why joan m., specifically, should never be a cheerleader. how we all should have known it was a mistake.
none of this made sense to me.
"why can't we just have 10 cheerleaders?" i asked mrs. snott, who snorted and rolled her eyes and probably thought something like "well, then, how will you know who is better than the others?"
"there are only eight uniforms," sister patricia reminded us.
"can't we get more?" we asked.
"YOU'LL LOOK LIKE AN UNORGANIZED HERD!" mrs. snott screeched.
[looking back, this seems like a given, regardless of how many cheerleaders we had. we were seventh graders who weighed no more than the sum of our marrow and whatever we'd had for hot lunch; we had big clumsy feet strapped into white keds, which in itself is a recipe for gym floor disaster.]
eventually my mom got in on the action and agreed to take over the squad from mrs. snott. all ten of us. my mom surveyed cheerleading costumes and organized a bake sale so we could buy two new uniforms in addition to the bullhorn shaped patches with our names embroidered inside. [while cheerleaders never got to keep their uniforms after graduation, the patch would make a scrap book ready parting gift, a momento of those two home games, one pep fest and three front walkovers in time to "girl you know its true."
we got our patches before we received our uniforms. fannie had lost hers before she even got home from school that day. "sorry, mrs. pista," she said to my mom. "keep looking for it," my mom cheerleading advised.
she never found it. but years later, tucked into sleeping bags in her basement for a sleepover, whenever the furnace would kick start one of us would say: "what was that?" and i would say: "i think it was your cheerleading patch!"
this post was inspired by the start of a new season of heroes. don't ruin it for me. i haven't seen the final episodes of season one, yet.