Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Let's go team!

Well, that didn't take long.

Three weeks after Earbaby said goodbye to all-things gymnastic, she was revelling in the fact that even though she would be taking five dance classes a week (two at one studio and three at her new place), she would have more free time, since at least two nights a week she didn't have any commitments and her latest dance class ended at 6:45. Then she was asked to join the cheerleading squad.

It seems she had missed the tryouts in the spring, when girls who wanted on this newly minted and official squad (EB's school hadn't had a real cheerleading squad in five years) made videos and went through the process of being chosen. But one of those girls quit, and the captain remembered EB had participated on the unofficial spirit squad, where she was a "triple threat": she could cheer, dance and tumble. So she was invited to come on, sans the video tryout.

Of course she said yes.

Two weeks before school started, she met with the captain and a couple of others to learn the routine. The week before school, the girls, 16 strong, baked in the hot sun for three-hour practices to get ready for their first game, which came on the second day of school.

Now EB is having to figure out where she falls in the realm of cheerleading culture. For one thing, as a gymnast, she always turned her nose up a bit at "cheerleaders." Gymnasts consider themselves athletes, and it's been a real push-pull with cheerleading, which has become more than standing around shaking a couple of pompoms and yelling rhythmic versions of Go, team! With cheerleading becoming more athletic (and dangerous), official cheerleading is now under the auspices of USA Gymnastics Association, which should help with the squads getting better trained coaches. So EB doesn't have to feel too bad about becoming one of the people she used to make fun of. (Doesn't that happen to all of us, sooner or later?)

Still, she's seen enough Glee episodes and cheerleader mean girl movies to know that there can be some truth to the stereotype. So she initially balked when the captain started excitedly talking about them going on competitions and getting photos taken and sitting together at lunch. EB's friends are her friends. She doesn't want to sit with the "cool and popular" kids like in the movies.

She also rolled her eyes a little bit when she was told they were to wear their uniforms to school on game days. You know, school spirit and all that.

It's been a bumpy road for this new team. For one thing, all the paperwork wasn't submitted in time for the girls to go on the field for the first, second or third games. They had been practicing and would do their tumbling for the crowd after the first two games (both wins), and were given a lot of support by the football team, the students, the teachers, and the coaches. But the rules of when they could actually perform frustrated them.

And this is when they got their first lessons on how to be a team. By week three, they were snapping at each other and EB said she was going to quit if they didn't get a chance to perform. It wasn't fun any more. I informed her that she was not quitting. Being part of a team means you don't cut and run when things don't go your way the first, second or even third time. They are all still learning the lessons of commitment and perserverance.

As for me, I had to examine how I feel about the stereotypes of girls cheering boys' accomplishments. As a teenager, I was on drill team, as a 20-something, I founded and coached a drill team. As a feminist, I try to eschew gender stereotypes. As the new mother of a daughter I had wanted and waited a long time for, I dressed her in ridiculous amounts of pink. Talk about mixed messages.

So now, am I living vicariously through my daughter and ignoring the anachronistic symbolism? I hope not. When I asked if they would be cheering for basketball, she said she didn't know. And we both agreed (and so did some of her friends) that it would be incredibly sexist to cheer for only the boys' team and not the girls' but we'll cross that time-management bridge if we come to it.

The good news is the girls did finally get to perform. I didn't see it, but EB's dad did (and thankfully taped it for me) and thought they were great. I'm just glad to see all that money for years of gymnastics is paying off somewhere. And although she's in a tough exam school with homework that keeps her up until all hours and eats into her weekend time now, she's getting into some of the fun, social aspect of high school, the stuff you remember decades later when you return for reunions. You may remember the pain of the homework or the disappointment of your team's losses, but it won't hurt anymore. You will remember the football games, the quincenearas, the Sweet 16s, the friends you got closer to because you had lunch together, the joy of feeling part of your school community.

As for that illusion of more free time? Well, when they stopped practicing on Mondays, a friend asked if she was going to rejoin the dance team, that meets only once a week, on Mondays.

Of course she said yes.

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