If you’ve read any of my columns in the past, you probably know that I was a cheerleader in high school — I guess I’m one of those pathetic people who can’t let it go. I just can’t stop living the glory days, and come to think of it, it’s probably time to stop wearing my Varsity uniform to bed. But once again, something that happened to me freshman year of high school is relevant to my recent life as a college senior.
Fall semester freshman year, way back in 2006, our team wasn’t very good compared with the larger schools we competed with. The other girls were much more coordinated and talented than we were. In addition, however, our main rivals were arrogant, rich and slaggy, and they rejected us whenever we’d try to engage them at football and basketball games.
So when our school hosted the Tri-Valley League competition, we were humiliated in our own gym and came in third place. It was such a bitter experience to see our athletic director hand our rivals the first-place trophy.
But we continued to work even harder throughout the winter, and by the next season, our routine was much sharper. As our skill level grew, so did our confidence, and when it was time to compete against the same teams, we were well-prepared to reclaim our dignity.
Ironically, the winter Tri-Valley League competition was to be held at the high school of the team who won first place on our home turf. I was so anxious that I could barely sleep the night before, and that chocolate-chip muffin I ate the next morning wasn’t a very good idea.
Enter the cheerleaders: while not a typical sport, competitions are events that are judged subjectively, making the atmosphere cut-throat and catty. In the locker room, we’d put on our best fake smiles and wish the other teams good luck as they applied their eighth coat of hairspray, and then whisper to one another how we actually hoped they’d all break an ankle. But that is obviously terrible sportsmanship.
When it was our time to go on the mat, we just knew that our routine had been impeccable and the fear in our opponents’ eyes was equally satisfying. We went from being irrelevant underdogs to serious threats.
Finally, the placement began. All the teams sat in circles in the middle of the gym holding hands as the judges read out the results. I felt like my stomach was going to implode on itself.
That BS interim where the speaker says “how everyone did such a great job” and “everyone give it up for our 10 wonderful teams” felt like a century, but when he began to announce third place, we bowed our heads and squinted our eyes, holding each other’s hands a bit tighter.
Third place: not us. Oh my god, we have a chance at this.
Another rule of sportsmanship is to act like you don’t know you’re about to get first place even if the only other serious team just placed second.
So when the speaker announced that our rivals got second, it was difficult to cover the tears. But then possibly the greatest moment in my entire life happened: our team, the Ashland Clockers, won first. I can’t remember any other instance where I’ve uncontrollably cried so hard.
The next part of the story seems kind of callous, but it was almost as good as getting a trophy: when the speaker said we came in first, the captain of our rivals hadn’t fully walked back to the rest of her team yet. So when one of my teammates literally tackled me to the ground out of joy, said captain tripped over us – a pile of two girls crying of happiness in her own gym – and then hastily ran away. Of course I felt terrible!
Just kidding, it was awesome.
Sometimes it’s just nice, even euphoric, to bask in victory along with 17 other happy teammates.
I recently won an award I never thought I’d receive for some research I’ve been conducting on ancient Greek manuscripts. It was a humbling experience for which I am extremely grateful, and still partially in denial that I won it over about 250 other researchers. It was such an honor that I might have cried for five-ish minutes alone in a bathroom afterwards.
But I was waiting for a feeling that never happened, then I realized: winning just isn’t the same when you do it by yourself.
I just wanted to share that special moment with someone, but there was no one to share it with. I would have shared the work with 17 other people and received a fraction of recognition than won it all on my own.
So if you see me on the sidewalk, feel free to tackle me to the ground and start weeping uncontrollably.
Sydney L. Shea is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.