Confessions of a Cheer Mom

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Janey Fales of Costa Mesa and Megan O'Connor of Newport Beach, members of the Stealth cheer team, take a moment to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Their team took first place in a tournament in San Diego last weekend. — Photo by Debi O'Connor 
Janey Fales of Costa Mesa and Megan O’Connor of Newport Beach, members of the Stealth cheer team, take a moment to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Their team took first place in a tournament in San Diego last weekend. — Photo by Debi O’Connor

When our daughter Janey told me she wanted to do competitive cheerleading, I thought “Oy, Cheerleading? Isn’t that like Toddlers and Tiaras for bigger kids?”

I remembered the news story back in the nineties – a mom charged with solicitation of capital murder when after her daughter did not make team, tried to hire a hit man to off another cheer mom. Even with the assumption I wouldn’t be mingling with any mommy criminals, who in their right mind would want their 11 or 12 year old parading around in a skimpy outfit, wearing too much make-up?

And, who are you cheering for if there’s no team? How do you compete against different cheer teams? I was faced with a dilemma. Do I refuse to let her sign up? Or do I keep my mouth shut and let her pursue an interest? Thankfully I chose option B.

How many times have we learned in life that first impressions can be wrong? First let me clear the air. Yes, there is make-up. Yes there are bows and ponytails and curling irons and short skirts. But only during competitions – about six a year.

The vast majority of the time is spent training when no one is looking, in t-shirts, shorts, and no make-up. The vast majority of the time is spent stretching, conditioning, and doing something over and over until it is done correctly. There’s nothing sparkly about hard work.

When Janey started, she couldn’t even do a cartwheel. Thanks to her coaches Edwin, Mike and Justin, in the course of a year, I have watched Janey gain a renewed sense of self. Cartwheels were only the beginning. She has never worked harder or sweat more. She has never had more fun. As Janey gains strength and flexibility, her psyche follows. Close friendships have blossomed. Her coaches foster a core value that no matter how good you are, you are nothing without your team.

Among the life lessons that have been emphasized, one of the first was promptness. In the beginning, I got her to practice two minutes late, and she had to stay after and do extra sit-ups, burpies, and jumps on and off of large blocks. She walked out of the gym, tears welling up,  gasping for breath. It was painful and she felt like she could throw up. However from that day on, she is adamant about arriving 15 minutes early to every practice.

Last weekend the girls had a competition in San Diego. This message came from the head of the program just before:

“I want to remind everyone that we are all made differently and for different purposes. Some athletes excel in one portion while others in another. Having a group of identical athletes will not lend itself to success on the floor or off. It is the combination of our different individual skills that make us a strong team….please support all athletes so that all of our family can realize all their dreams no matter what level. Also keep in the back of your mind that maybe someday in the near future, it may be you or your athlete in the hot seat. Support, love and trust. Those are the three keys to success in a true team sport.”

That same message could have been sent by a basketball, baseball, or football coach. I confess, I am a cheer mom, and I am proud.

 

Jill Fales is the mother of four and author of “My Laundry Museum & Other Messy Gifts of Motherhood.” Visit her at www.JillFales.com

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