While it’s certainly been a long time for me personally (try 5 decades), hopefully this current phenomenon hasn’t dwindled low enough to be endangered or more dubiously threatened with extinction yet. What’s going on? We could be on the brink of a world collapse. Let me expound.
I’ve been going to high school basketball games since Landon (Drew to the rest of the world) made the varsity team as a freshman four years ago. They play 20 games a year, (not counting tournament play after the regular season). Over half of the games are against rivals in their own conference. Let’s say 56 conference games in the span of 4 years. That’s playing the same teams, twice a year, leaving about 25 games in the same time frame against different opponents. Everywhere from Traverse City to inner city Detroit schools. Not singling out Pioneer here, it’s one of the top high schools in the state academically. It is however the school I visit most often. Pioneer is a large, diverse, urban school of about 2,000 students, freshmen through senior. These are observations by a curious, interested, somewhat discouraged grandma.
I remember sitting in our newly constructed elementary school (during the late ‘50’s, pretty sure it was Myrna Ver Hoef’s second grade class. It’s been torn down and replaced, yeah, I’m that old). The hallway outside our classroom door led to the cafeteria, so students from all ages/classes meandered/scurried past on their way for much needed sustenance to get through the rest of the day. The door to my room was open and I watched ‘the big high school kids’ walking, talking, laughing, flirting until suddenly humbling themselves seriously to the mercy of the lunchroom gestapo police, Mrs. Haas, the lunch ticket lady. (For whom I had great fear if my lunch ticket had run out and I had to ‘charge’ my meal. I’d rather face the firing squad). It was game day and I was fascinated, envious, smitten and in awe of the cheerleaders. Cute orange and black uniforms, skirts barely covering their knees, Bobbie socks folded down, white tennis shoes. Perfect hair and makeup. They were just so together. I knew right then I wanted to be a cheerleader.
Who remembers Friday afternoon pep rallies? What a blast from the past. Lasting about half an hour before we were dismissed for the weekend. But before you could make plans for Saturday, a big Friday night game (football or basketball) awaits. Athletes dressed up on game days. Cheerleaders, donning our uniforms held a pep rally with a mixture of cheers, and short inspiring ‘pep’ talks from team members or coaches (sometimes including a sermonette from Mr. Liaboe on what kind of behavior he expected from students during the game. Lucky us). The object of the pep rally was enthusiastically engaging Rocket booster students to show support for our team/school that night during the game. Didn’t matter who we were playing (although we hated Sioux Center more than the rest of our opponents-combined). The whole high school was excited about a pep rally-because it got you out of class early. Who didn’t want that on a Friday afternoon? I loved pep rallies. Watching our entire high school mingling on the bleachers, screaming out memorized cheers in unison.
It was common to have 2 bus loads of kids signed up to ride a pep bus for an away game because most of the student population went to every game. I know we were from a small town with a relatively small school, but still. Taking an active, supportive role in attending sporting events drew us together. A neat kind of warm (cool) bond. Some of my fondest junior high and high school memories resulted from riding our pep bus. If the Rockets suffered a loss we might have a quiet ride back to Rock Valley, but with a win we were assured of everyone’s loud, hoarse, raspy voice being heard throughout the trip home. Such great times. The last time I passed a bus load of high school kids headed somewhere during the day, every single kid had his/her head down-practically in their lap. On their phone, in their own little world, while their best friends sat right next to them-doing exactly the same thing. Sad.
Pioneer has 2 big city rivalries, Huron and Skyline. We play them each twice a year. Four times a season, wherever those games are held, the gym is packed. Four games out of 20. The rest of the games, depending on the night and opponent might garner a hundred and fifty students. Might. I think one of the attributing factors is cheerleaders. Or lack there of. Throughout Landon’s high school basketball career, approximately 80 games, I’ve seen a dozen, maybe 15 schools with cheerleaders at the game we’re attending. This. Blows. My. Mind. No it really-just blows.
What has happened to school spirit? I simply can’t wrap my head around the lack of cheerleaders for sporting events in school systems. When I was in high school (about 200 kids) cheerleading tryouts were very competitive, nerve racking, with an over abundance of girls clamoring for the highly coveted spots. It was a big deal. Huge. Deal. Shannon cheered during high school and participated in several cheerleading competitions every year. Cheerleaders are still a highly competitive, active group at the college level, so what’s happened in some of the high schools? Can the size of a high school be a contributing factor? Is size detrimental?
In a high school of 2,000 students, I hope there would be at least 8 beaming, spirited young women (or guys) who should be thrilled and damn proud to wear their school colors in cheerleading uniforms-on game day. Can it be cost? If I remember, I think Mom paid for most of my uniform (skirt, shoes, knee socks and jacket) but I believe the school paid for sweaters, which were worn more than one season. Is it sexism? Not cool for girls to wear short skirts and skimpy tops. Bring back mid-thigh skirts (or leggings) and sweaters. Apathy? The crowd of kids simply are not enthusiastic about high school sports anymore. Lack of a coach? I’m at a loss here. And disheartened about it.
Then again, if only a hundred kids show up in support for the non-rivalry games, cheerleading must not be much fun either. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw a cheerleading squad run out on the floor in between quarters or at half time to perform a rousing cheer. There were cheerleaders at our last 2 games (not Pioneer, haven’t seen cheerleaders since Landon’s sophomore year). Huron had a dozen gals on the sidelines. Monroe had 4 who walked along the bleachers and threw out T-shirts. Oh yeah, one of the girls did 6 backflips in a row, spelling out M-O-N-R-O-E while the other 3 shouted out the letters on the sidelines. Yay. Glum.
Cheerleaders are the conduit between fans and athletes during sporting events. (But you do have to encourage the fans to get out there and support the team too). A small way of connecting hard working athletes with the student body population. As one unified group. For a couple hours there are no cliques, just kids supporting other kids. I hope high school cheerleading squads make a comeback. That they are encouraged and supported by school administrators, teachers, counselors and their peers. Mentored and coached until they find some bubbling enthusiasm for high school sports once again. Rah-rah-rah…