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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 9, 2021 11 months ago

COLUMN: Give me an A - Give me an M - Give me a Y

What’s that spell? Someone who’s never been a cheerleader. Ever. But not for lack of trying.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

It’s funny that cheerleading has played some kind of role throughout my life. It’s the one thing I wanted to achieve at Lakeview Junior High and West Orange High schools — more than anything. But why? I have never liked being in front of people, and I don’t want anyone looking at me. The desire to be popular makes you do crazy things when you’re a young girl.

We learned a few cheers and earned a participation ribbon.

My first introduction to cheerleading was at Dillard Street Elementary when my friends and I took part in the YMCA’s Tri-Gra-Y program. I received a certificate of completion signed by our coach, Pam Hannon, so I “knew” I did well. Of course, every girl in the program got one.

The chance to be a real cheerleader came when I was in the seventh grade at Lakeview. Tryouts for the 1980-81 school year were held in the gym after a week of learning and practicing cheers. I’ve got this, I thought. I’m gonna be a cheerleader, I thought.

I gave it my all — flimsily outstretched arms and bent-knee splits — and then waited to hear my name announced.

It wasn’t called. I wouldn’t be a cheerleader the following school year.

But do you know who did make the squad? A girl on crutches. Yes, crutches. I was worse than a girl who could only stand on one foot to perform the cheer routine.

OK, there’s always next year, I told myself. At the end of eighth grade, I tried out to be a Lakeview Red Devil cheerleader as a ninth-grader. Same ending, minus the crutches.

If you look in the Lakeview yearbook, though, you will see my smiling face with the other wannabe rah-rahs on what was called the Pep Squad. We wore matching maroon T-shirts to the Thursday night football games at Walker Field, and we stood as a group in the stands, cheering as loudly as the uniformed cheerleaders by the field. We had the spirit without the status.

Even the losers received a participation ribbon.

Not one to give up, I thought maybe I should switch gears for my debut as a high-schooler. I decided the rifle corps was my place to shine. The only thing that shined were the purple bruises on my arms and legs from failed attempts at flinging and catching the rifle.

Another year, another gear switch — dance corps, here I come! I’ll spare you the details, but it ended ugly. Two years in a row. But, to my surprise, I was so nervous the second year I actually went all the way down in my split. Small victories.

By now, you think I’m either strong and persistent or a total idiot who thrives on public failure.

I’ll tell anyone my cheerleading story. It doesn’t embarrass me; it defines me.

Even my little sister, Jeni, can claim she was a cheerleader for the Pop Warner football team.

Years later, a coworker asked if I had ever watched “The Middle.” I had not. She proceeded to tell me I reminded her of Sue Heck, the character who tried out for everything under the sun at school but never made it.

I was the Sue Heck of West Orange County.

When my daughter, Allison, was 8, she joined her cousin, Raygan, on a competitive cheer team, the Orlando Flames, that trained in Gotha. Every week that season, I sat with the other parents off to the side of the gym as the girls practiced their routine.

Allison loved that part of cheerleading and the athleticism and precision required. What she didn’t like was the actual competition and all the preparation it entailed. The night before the competition, we sat for hours sponge-rolling her hair in teeny-tiny sections so she could cheer in adorable, bouncy curls, a la Shirley Temple or Nellie Oleson.

Once we were at the venue, she wriggled into the skin-tight uniform and then wriggled in protest when I applied the bright red glitter lipstick and shiny silver and red glitter eyeshadow.

One year of cheer was enough for Allison, but Raygan and her younger sister, Sayler, kept it up. They both cheered on the varsity team at Olympia High, starting as freshmen, and they made the cheer team all four years in college, too.

Allison also spent one season performing on the flag Color Guard at Lakeview Middle School, all dressed out in gold sparkle. Now I’m thinking maybe I should have tried out for the flag corps.

Nah. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m better at cheering when I’m not in front of people. I learned as an adult that my calling in life was to be a mom cheering from the sidelines and stands while Allison and Adam played soccer and baseball in elementary school and the trumpet and the drums in high school.

And I’m perfectly OK with that.

We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit, how about you?

Raygan Cristello, left, and Allison Couch cheered for the Orlando Flames.


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Amy Quesinberry is the community editor of the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She was born and raised in Winter Garden, grew up reading the community newspaper and has been employed there as a writer, photographer and editor since 1990....

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