Confessions of a Wannabe Cheerleader
“Maaads.” Mom cooed into my ear, shaking a pom—pom under my nose at the same time. This is how she’s been waking me up every day since I was, like, three. And it’s the same pom-pom. Between you and me, it’s lost a few strings since its heyday and is starting to look really sad. “Big day today,” she trilled. “Up! Up! Up!”
I opened my eyes and threw off the covers in ÜBERFREAKOUT mode. “What time is it? Am I late?” I scrambled toward my dresser to grab my contacts case. Not much gets me up on a Saturday with this much enthusiasm. Not much, that is, except the idea of tryouts for the Port Angeles School Titan cheerleaders. (OK, that and maybe the Farmers’ Breakfast Special at the Pancake
House around the corner.) Trust me, it is THAT GOOD.
But back to why I was so excited about cheer tryouts. To start, a list of my favorite fun facts about cheerleading:
1) 3% of all female school athletes across the country are cheerleaders. Who knew?
2) 65% of all dangerous injuries in girls’ school sports come from cheerleading. Insane!
3) 62% of cheerleaders are involved in a second sport. Overachievers much?
4) The first cheerleaders were men! Can you believe??
Mom was halfway inside my closet, selecting one of my red and white pairs of boy shorts and a tank (our school colors are red, white, and blue—patriotic much?) for me to wear to the tryouts. This is another one of our traditions—anything regarding cheerleading, Mom’s allowed to help pick out my clothes. Every other occasion is off limits ever since I learned to use a sewing machine and discovered I have quite a killer fashion sense. And also, um, since I’m not five anymore.
“Madington, of course we’re not late,” she said, using a nickname I’ve warned her never to use when my friends are around. “We’re an hour earlier than planned. Thought you’d want some time to digest the special whole—wheat pancakes I made you. I even put in some carob chips.” She winked. “See you downstairs.”
Mom laid my clothes on the bed and cheerily bounced out of my room, her wavy blond locks trailing behind her like a mermaid underwater. God, I L-O-V-E her hair.
Now might be a good time to mention that my mom is, like, absolutely gorgeous. I’m talking royalty pretty. No, seriously, she actually was homecoming queen AND prom queen in her day. Whenever she picks me up from school, I can always count on some guy or another to serenade us with that song “Stacy’s Mom” that was popular a while back. They just substitute my name instead: “Maddy’s mom has got it goin’ on,” and I just want to disappear in the front seat.
Oh, yeah. And she was a Titan. And she was captain
of the cheerleading squad.
You could almost say my mom and I have been preparing me for today’s tryouts ever since I was old enough to wear her cheer uniform. Well, I didn’t exactly fit into it. I was only three, and it dragged on the floor behind me, but I was technically wearing it. Every summer, while my friends were either lazing away at camp or catching up on the latest comic books, I was at cheer clinics, taking dance classes or tumbling and stunting lessons, dreaming of the day I’d make it onto the squad just like my mom. Which is why today’s tryouts were, like, everything I’ve been living for my WHOLE LIFE! I’m pretty good at this cheer stuff too. That is, when I’m not being SpazzMadstic, which is what my mom and I call it when I get all awkward and mess up my moves.
Ok, so I guess I didn’t get my mom’s perfect cheer genes.
I also didn’t get her model looks. I mean, I’m not saying that small children should be shielded from looking at me! I’m not hideous or anything, but no guy has ever told me I’m pretty, except for my friend Evan—but we were five at the time and he was picking
his nose while he said it, so I’m not entirely sure that counts. Five foot three is a totally average height for a girl my age, and my eyes are this really cool light green, which is pretty rare. My wavy brown hair? That I wouldn’t mind changing up. Eduardo, the guy who cuts Mom’s and my hair, says my hair is “honey colored,” like that’s supposed to make me like it more, but I don’t see much of a difference between the color of my hair and the color of the wood floor in our den, and I still totally wish Mom would let me dye it something dramatic like red or black. But she won’t. I do like my freckles, though—and they really come out right before cheer season, because that’s when I’m practicing outside the most (obvs).
In the car on the way to school, I selected some pump-it-up music on my iPod to get me psyched and to calm my nerves a little.
“Mads, turn it down. Even I can hear it,” Mom said in that disapproving parental tone.
I pretended to turn the music down by rubbing my hands in the general direction of my iPod. This is a great thing about the older generation, as I like to refer to them. They don’t know the first thing about how to operate anything with “pod” or “pad” or “i” in its name. Mom still has this giant tower of CDs in our living
room, plus big fat books of CD collections. I keep telling her that CDs are so 1997, but she won’t listen to me. Anyway, I don’t ever have to worry about Mom snooping in my iPhone or (one day, hopefully, when I get one) my iPad. Not like she would, though. She’s chill about those kinds of things.
Anyway, I started to think about what it would be like to make it onto the team. How amazing it would be to walk down the halls of PAS as a bona fide Titan, with peeps like Katie Parker, Hilary Cho, and Clementine Prescott having my back. I mean, they’re not the nicest people in the world, but I don’t think they’re as bad as everyone thinks they are. People don’t understand the kind of pressure they’re under—giving every ounce of their physical strength to cheer on the Titans, not to mention all those supergrueling cheer competitions. It’s enough to make someone lose it.
I mean, it’s not like I want to be all besties with them. But to learn from the best cheerleaders? To earn respect from the best? To BE the best? THAT I can totally see. And I would so love to wear
that white, red, and blue skirt. It’s adorbs.
“Madington, we’re here.”
It was weird. . . . Mom’s voice sounded like it was coming from so far away. I hate being woken from perfect daydreams. Especially when the reality was that cheer tryouts were just minutes away. Hello, butterflies?
“You’re going to be fabulous,” she said, giving my arm a squeeze.
The gym smelled—as usual—like the bottom of an old Crayola box mixed with armpit sweat. Delish! I tried to tell myself that I was ready. I had my journal in my silver and gold gym bag for inspiration (with all my notes on cheers, stunt sequences, routines, and general thoughts on life-oh, and my fashion designs ), and not a single lump stood out in my ponytail. Whatever Katie and Clementine threw my way, I could handle. Right?
Hmm, well, maybe not.
As soon as I saw the other girls, aka the competition, stretching out on the mats, I got a little nervous. There was Katarina Tarasov, the Russian exchange student I’d heard about. She just started school with us this year. I heard she was practically Olympics material back wherever she was from.
I watched her practicing perfectly arched backflips across the mat.
“Hey, nice job,” I told her as I walked by.
“You’re welcome!” she said, smiling proudly.
Unfortunately she doesn’t speak much English. I decided to avoid sharing mat space with her that morning. I didn’t feel like teaching an Introduction to English class in addition to trying out.
“All right, girls,” said Coach Whipley. (Isn’t it funny how coaches always tend to have the most appropriate names?) “It’s gonna go like this. Katie and Hilary are going to lead you through a dance routine. Then Clementine will teach you a cheer. Then you’ll perform each as a group. The last part of tryouts will be individual tumbling and gymnastics. Clear?”
It was exactly what I had planned for. No curveballs. Phew.
The routine was set to a medley of songs by Rihanna, Pink, and Lady Gaga. Unfortunately, I had stuck myself next to Jared “It’s Showtime!” Handler, whose interpretation of every move was sprinkled with outrageous jazz hands and Fred Astaire footwork. I couldn’t believe he actually showed up for tryouts. I’d heard him telling everyone he was going to go for cheer this year when he didn’t get any lead roles in
last spring’s West Side Story. I’d secretly been hoping he was joking. Not that I mind people going for new things, but I don’t like that he’s just using cheer to give him an edge for drama class.
All through the dance routine, led by the amazing Hilary, Jared kept bumping into me and ruining my already-compromised-on-a-regular-day rhythm. I was so worried he was going to accidentally slap me with those jazz hands that I kept flinching. I missed a couple of steps in the middle of the routine and messed up a turn that normally would have been fine for me if I’d been able to concentrate fully. I looked like I was being electrocuted!! I swear, at next year’s Once Upon a Mattress production I’m going to sit in the front row on opening night and rap Eminem while Jared sings lead.
I totally aced the cheer, but during the individual tumbling and jumping in front of the judges, I became Awkward Girl and seriously SpazzMadsed out. I accidentally hit my toe to my nose during a toe jump and even saw Clementine snicker. My triple backflip became a back FLOP in the last second because my hand caught on a weird piece of the mat (just my luck). By that time I had, like, zero confidence, so when the judges asked me to do a front handspring I didn’t get enough height off the ground and FREAKED
in midair, folding into a tumble instead. At this point, everyone was watching me in stunned silence. Like, the WHOLE GYM. I don’t think anyone has ever had a worse cheer tryout. Even poor old Tabitha Sue Stevens—who can’t even do a split (a regular one, like, on the floor)-looked sorry for me.
“That was . . . interesting. Thank you, Madison Hays,” said Coach Whipley. And her face was all “what a loser,” I could tell. I seriously wanted to burrow into the mat and just die. All that work, all those summers, for nada. My mom would be sooooo disappointed.
We weren’t allowed to leave the gym until all the tryouts were over, so I suffered through the rest of the morning watching everyone else do way better than me and pictured my soon-to-be cheerless existence. I’d spend the rest of my life being a cheer wannabe. I’d probably end up a crazy old lady, still wearing her cheer uniform and grumbling, “I could have been something!” And when I died, people would feel sorry for me and bury me with my pom-poms.
“No!” I shouted.
“Huh?” grunted Jacqueline Sawyer, one of the Titan cheerleaders, who happened to be sitting near me.
“Oh, nothing.” I blushed. I hadn’t realized that I’d said that out loud. Sometimes I do that, though.
My daydreams can get pretty intense.
Jacqueline just looked at me like I had three heads. I figured I might as well get used to it, since that’s how everyone will start looking at me after hearing I had the WORST CHEERLEADING TRYOUT EVER.
“It’s not that bad, you know,” Jacqueline said, leaning in.
“What do you mean?” I asked. Was this chick reading my mind? Spoooooky.
“You’ll still be cheering, just for a slightly different squad,” Jacqueline said mysteriously.
Then it was my turn to look at her like she was from another planet. And then the realization hit me. OH. NO.
Jacqueline smirked and turned her attention back to the tryouts when she saw that I understood.
So, all the kids who don’t make the Titans are automatically placed onto the Grizzlies, aka the B-squad, aka the rejects. I had completely forgotten about the school policy against turning anyone away
from wanting to participate in school—spirit activities. The Grizzlies cheered for the school teams the Titans were too proud to cheer for: swim team, debate team, chess club, etc. In other words: Loserville! Last year, as a prank, some guys threw dog biscuits at the Grizzlies during a swim meet. Like I said, it’s a world of NO. Love of cheerleading or not, I was NOT going to be a big, fat, hairy Grizzly.
I prayed that by some miracle my name would be on that magical sheet of paper outside Coach Whipley’s office at the end of the day, securing my fate as a glorious and magnificent Titan.
Guess what? It wasn’t. I must have stared at the paper, for like, ten minutes straight. I even tried walking away and quickly whipping around, hoping that my sneak attack would somehow shift the ink in my favor. It didn’t work. My name was so NOT on there. Want to know where my name was? That’s right. On the big, fat, hairy Grizzlies list! Sandwiched between Jared Handler and Tabitha Sue Stevens. Go figure.
Now all the new cheerleaders are running to their parents’ cars, squealing with excitement. My heart can’t sink any lower into my chest.
“I see you at the practice Monday, yes?”
I turned around and saw Katarina, her gym bag
draped over her thin shoulders. I just shrugged in reply. I wonder if she understood. Either way, if I AM going to see her at practice on Monday, I figure I can wait till then to start our English lessons.
Here comes my mom’s car. Her expectant, smiling face is breaking my heart! What will she say when she finds out? She’ll probably be mortified. This much I know is true: Pigs will fly before I become a Grizzly Bear.
I am meant to be a Titan.