We traveled to bowl games (1992 Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa, Florida and the 1993 Fiesta Bowl, in Tempe, Arizona), a bunch of NCAA games, and even to Middle Tennessee State University for cheerleading camp. I was a cheerleader for Syracuse University from 1990-1994 and I loved it. For all you naysayers that don’t appreciate cheerleading, you should reconsider. I learned about trust, teamwork, sports, fitness, failure, respect, commitment, loyalty, and competition. I’m still friends with almost all of my partners, squad mates, and Oranges (the Orange’s name is Otto). I learned many lessons while wearing a tiny skirt balanced on my partners’ palms, and now that this season my Alma Mater is headed to the Final Four, it’s a good time to reminisce.
I tried out for junior varsity cheerleading in the fall of 1990, my freshman year at Syracuse. I wasn’t the best cheerer, dancer, gymnast, or stunter. (Stunts are when your partners toss you in the air and catch you.) But I was light, teachable, and very enthusiastic. I was over the moon that I made the squad, but I had a lot to learn. First of all we had guys now—in high school, all cheerleaders were girls. These were strong guys—many competitive gymnasts or former football players. They could really launch us into the air. I fell a lot. That’s where the trust comes in. If you were willing to let some guy toss you 20 feet in the air, you better trust that he’s going to catch you on the way down. Most of the time they did, and if a stunt went wrong our partners would do everything they could to break our falls. We all got hurt, but we always got back up to try it again.
Cheerleading, like most sports (yes, I said sports), is competitive, but once the team was picked, it was a family. We practiced together, partied together, and took care of each other. Looking at these old pictures makes me smile at how much I loved everyone in them.
One of the greatest regrets of my life happened during my cheerleading career. It was St. Patrick’s Day of my sophomore year, my first varsity year. Some friends and I went out drinking and then I went to practice drunk. My coach knew it and told me to go home. I cursed at her and then stumbled home and went to sleep. The next morning she banned me from the next round of NCAA games, which I totally deserved. She also cut me from the team at our spring tryout for the next football season. I was miserable. This was long fall from the top of that pyramid and I was crushed when I hit the bottom. I felt awful about everything. I wasn’t just depressed about not cheering the next season, but I knew I had disrespected my coach, my squad, and myself. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and it was all my fault.
Every night after my summer job I would go to the gym so I could be stronger to try out for the basketball season and make the squad again. As fate would have it, one of the girls who beat me for a spot on the fall squad didn’t return to Syracuse that year. The coach had another tryout to fill her spot and by the grace of G-d, and a forgiving coach, I was awarded the open spot.
I was a changed person. The defeat I suffered was not on a sports field—it was personal moral failing that I committed, accepted, and tried to overcome. I was so grateful for a second chance. I credit cheerleading for some of the best times I ever had in college and for teaching me one of my greatest and most painful life lessons.
I’m still embarrassed to share this story about how horrible and entitled I was during my sophomore year, and I’m still sorry for my actions. Even writing this gave me anxiety. But I can’t think about my cheerleading career without remembering how I almost screwed it all up. I don’t remember if I apologized to my coach Linda Bell for being such a brat but Linda, I am sorry.
Despite this black mark on my fantastic memories, I still bleed orange and still know all the words to our fight song. I credit Syracuse with an incredible education from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, which has led to my career in broadcasting. I am also grateful for my fellow cheerleaders and coaches for teaching me about hard work, forgiveness, and second chances.
LET’S GO ORANGE!
This week I wish you great memories, and a chance at personal redemption for whatever you may regret.