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The Sweet Smell of Sucess
Ask any bone-headed jock or mindless groupie what cheerleading is about and you will get the same generic response; "Cheerleading is for dumb blonds that like to wear short skirts and jump up and down at football games". Now as I am somewhat of a blonde that did participate on my high school cheer team, the stereotype of cheerleader had followed me around for most of my life. After constantly having to fight it off, I eventually began to brush all the accusations off my shoulder and continue on untouched. Now if any individual did become curious enough to ask me what I did in cheer for 5 hours almost everyday, I was always happy to share with them the untold truths about competitive cheer. I would often direct them to the website varsity.com in order for them to fully understand how intense competitive cheerleading really is. After viewing varsity.com, it would be hard for anyone to insult what I came to own as my sport. Varsity.com shows my passion and why I love doing it, the website is where I find my idols and where I create followers of my own. Varsity.com has given me my 15 minutes of fame and has kept it there. It has displayed the video of my team at nationals for anyone and everyone to see. Going to this website always brings me back to the most important part of my cheer career, the year that my team went to nationals in Orlando Florida.
Now as I am well beyond the peak of my cheer career, I always find myself looking back on my time as a cheerleader and pondering how spending the past five years of my life flipping around on a mat was beneficial to my character as a whole. I sometimes feel as if it was a waste of those beloved weekend nights, but then I remember the highlight of my career. I remember how it felt to pour my heart out in front of hundreds of people; I remember showing off the one thing I loved to everyone I cared about; I remember what it was like to finally feel like cheering was important. UCA nationals was the best memory I have as a child and will always be the story I fall back on when I feel like giving up in life.
Ever since I was a little girl, I had always struggled finding that sport that “spoke to me”. I had tried every activity under the sun and nothing was ever thrilling enough for me to stay in. Soccer was too confusing, basketball was to quick, and gymnastics took up too much time. It never really seemed to faze me that I didn’t have a sport until I was getting ready to enter the 6th grade. I understood that middle school was much more sport orientated than elementary school, and I knew how important it was for me to find my activity of involvement so that I could have friends and keep friends throughout my school years. After almost giving up, a friend of my invited me to her cheer gym for a free tumbling class. After one hour in the gym, I felt like I had found my home; my leaps and bounds had improved, well, leaps and bounds. I could tell that my dynamic with the coaches and other cheerleaders was pleasant and encouraging. After that important day, I never looked back and continued on with my crazy passion of competitive cheerleading.
Skipping forward through my awkward middle school stages and beginning high school days, we arrive at sophomore me; calm, cool, collective and still totally in love with competitive cheer. My competitive cheer team was still made up of the same members, and after four plus years of intense coaching and training, we were what my coach Drea liked to call us “professionals”. Not only were we all determined athletes, but as the years went by, we had all developed the same interest and hobbies and had become not a group of best friends, but more a group of sisters. We had improved so much that the cheer competitions we would compete at could be described more as dominations. My cheer coach Drea was so impressed with us, she felt that it was time to take us to UCA nationals.
UCA nationals was not for any amateur cheerleading team; in order to even go and compete, a team must first qualify by winning a UCA sponsored competition known as regional’s. Once a team qualified for nationals, they were then placed against 60 of the nation’s top teams, thrown into the milk stadium in Walt Disney World, and given two days to show off the routine of their lives in front of thousands of fans and the ESPN film crew. This was not a trip for anyone that was questioning their talent, so when my coach Drea said that we were ready for National’s, I knew that we had made it as a successful cheer team.
After three months of intense training, my team had worked to the skin and bones and we were finally ready to make a name for ourselves in the world of competitive cheerleading. Drea, who had been with us since day one, had finally shaped us into what she knew would be “the team to beat”. Even if a team member didn’t want to win for herself, she knew we had to win for the sake of Drea. We were her creation and it was finally time for us to make her proud. I knew that in order make my mark on this team; I myself must work harder than I ever had in order to bring home this championship.
Finally the day came for my team to travel to Florida in order to pour our hearts out on the stage. When we arrived, we were automatically thrown into a sea of teenage girls with cheer bows flowing through their perfectly done hair. There were teams from each and every state; some with accents, others with hairstyles and outfits I had never seen before. It didn’t hit me until then that we were about to compete in a whole other level than my team was used to. After a great night’s sleep, the day finally came for my team to compete. We woke up at six o’clock sharp, had a miniature practice in the hotel grass, got our hair makeup and uniforms ready, and head out to the milk house. When we arrived my heart sank; it was exactly like what I had seen on ESPN. I was a small ant inside a gigantic building filled with an immense amount of people. As I looked forward, I sank a little bit inside my sneakers; the stage was staring at me straight in the face. A massive replica of Cinderella’s castle accompanied the beautiful blue cheer mats; a mixture of fear and excitement suddenly rushed through my body. This was the stage that I was about to reveal my years of hard work on.
After going through the warm-ups and seeing some of our fellow competitors, I knew that this competition was going to be anything but easy. As we waited to go onstage, I pepped up my girls and made sure they knew I was proud to be there captain. Finally after the two longest minutes of my entire life, I heard a voice coming on over the microphone. “And up next from Tempe, Arizona please welcome Arizona All Stars!” The instant the man stopped speaking, my team was shoved on stage and put into our places. With all the spotlights and people, it was clear how intimidating competing on this floor would be, but my team had worked way to hard to let fear get the best of our routine. The two minutes and thirty seconds flew by and before I knew it we were at the end of the routine. We had nailed it, no mistakes, no falls, no touchdowns; just a beautifully executed routine.
As the rest of our competition continued on the stage, my team started to become confident on taking first place. We knew it would be extremely close, but we felt our routine was difficult enough to put us up on top. After all, the only reason my team had even competed was to achieve our number one goal; we wanted first and were not leaving with anything lower. The awards ceremony finally came around and my team sat there, hand in hand, waiting for our name to be called.
After hearing teams from 60th place down, we had finally reached the top five.
And in fifth place…
And in fourth place…
And in third place….
At this point our hearts were pounding there was only one team left for us to beat. As we waited to praise our fairly earned first place title, we heard out of the back of our heads “And in second place, Arizona All Stars”.
My team sat there in shock; we were devastated. All that hard work, only to come out in second. Tears immediately came rushing down every members face, no one had any clue how this could possible happen. At this moment we thought our world had ended and our entire cheer career was a waste. When I personally had almost given up all hope, I looked to my left and saw Drea slowly approaching us. Terrified that we were going to get the scolding of the century, I placed my head down and stared straight at the floor. Surprisingly Drea was anything but upset about our performance. She told us that we should be so proud for coming this far and doing this well given it was our first time. After realizing that my coach was not upset with us, I began to see our results in a different light. I stopped looking at the fact that we lost by one person and started realizing that we had beat 58 other teams and competed the routine of our lives. This was nothing to be ashamed of. With that blessing from our coach, my team finally allowed themselves to be excited about how they did. In the words of the cheer bible (Bring it On) my team raised their peace signs in glory and screamed, “Second place hell yeah!”
Even today as my cheer career has ended, I still look back on that important day in order to remember how important it is to be proud of yourself for all of your hard work, no matter how upsetting the outcome is. As I move on into college and start receiving new struggles and failures, my coach Drea’s voice always pops into my head reminding me to be proud of myself everyday. I will often have urges to visit varsity.com in order to watch the video of the routine that changed my life. Whether it is to mourn for the end of my cheer career, praise myself for such a great accomplishment, or show off to the naïve how insane cheerleading can be; I can never seem to stray away from this website. Experiencing my first big let down as an individual, I have now learned that in no matter what situation life brings you, there is always a silver lining. Whether it be not getting the grade I was hoping, or not being hired for my number one job; looking at the positive side of every situation will always help to improve my over all morale. As I move on, transitioning into my new adult life, I will always have varsity.com to bring me back to the time when I was young , happy, and learning a few a life’s most important lessons.