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I have a confession to make. Although I was born and raised in Texas, I didn’t try out for cheerleading.

Of course, I always wanted to be a Derek Doll. 

But I never tried out.

Why, you ask?

Let’s see: I guess I was sort of cute when I was little, but then the hormones kicked in and I grew into a pale and gawky tween. Combine this with the fact that I was only allowed to buy things off the sales rack and I was not exactly “cheerleading” material. I was a polite kid with a lot of friends. I was on the dance team, the Sharkettes (Pop Warner) and took gymnastics, ballet and jazz. But I didn’t come out of the womb doing mid-air splits.

So I never bothered to try out for cheerleading.

I waited until I moved to Rhode Island my junior year of high school. I remember thinking, “What the heck do I have to lose?” as I rolled my Forenza jeans into my cowboy boots and coated my permed bangs with another layer of Aqua Net.

During tryouts, I did a cheer. A few kicks. Then another yell or two with moves like… Jackie. I smiled. Then my nerves got the best of me. After a few high kicks, I said something that would change my life forever.

I turned and announced to one of the judges, “I’m so nervous, I think I might pee in my pants.”

(In my defense, it was true.)

The next second was excruciating.

I remember hearing nothing in the auditorium but the squeak of my tennis shoes. It was like something out of a John Hughes movie.

Then I heard a few giggles. Followed by lots of laughing. Even a few snorts.

All the other girls were laughing. They were apparently laughing WITH ME. (OR so I hoped.). For a second, I felt like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink.

I guess the judge appreciated my honest style because I made it.

You read that right – I made cheerleading!

When I found out I made the squad, it was as if the painful zit on my chin had finally popped, dried and flaked off. I felt free and clear. The stress that came with moving to a small town hundreds of miles away from everything I had known was lifted.

It was a dream come true. In my 16-year-old mind, I felt like I was Susan Lucci. (The up-teenth time she landed an Emmy nomination. Gooooo, Erica!)

But after a few weeks, I realized that in a small New England town, cheerleading was a lot different than it is in Texas. People don’t make as much of a big deal about it. I discovered a lot of things about cheerleading that I didn’t know before.

A few ways cheerleading is different in Rhode Island:

  • In East Greenwich, Rhode Island, there was no mandatory rule that cheerleaders permeate their locks with AquaNet.
  • The outfits don’t have to sparkle or look anything like NFL cheerleader outfits.
  • You HAVE to wear thermals or sweats under your cheerleading outfit in Rhode Island to keep from freezing your buns off.
  • There are no mothers plotting the murder of other moms so their daughters can get on the squad.
  • You don’t have to look like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader to make the team.
  • Hair is much flatter in RI than in Texas, where they don’t condone “naked hair”. In Texas, “naked hair” is defined as hair that has not been permed, rolled, processed or curled and sprayed with enough hairspray to start a bonfire.
  • High school football stadiums in Rhode Island are like miniature Zoolander stadiums compared to the crowds that fill Texas Friday Night Lights’ games. The stadium we had in East Greenwich was a quarter of the size of the old stadium where I used to hang out with friends on fun Texas Friday nights.

Extra strength AquaNet or no AquaNet, I was still proud to be a cheerleader.

I spent some of the most memorable years of my life cheering, choreographing, and dancing with an awesome group of girls.

To this day, there are times when I will hear a Milli Vanilli song, lip synch and break into cheer, loud and clear for my kids to hear. The “beat” comes to me like the SNL Spartans squad led by Will Ferrell, as he and his female counterpart rooted on water polo matches with the “Perfect Cheer”. I can’t hold back. My hips start pumping. My head moves from side to side. Then I stop, look down, both arms to my side. “Ready? OK!” I yell out to my dog, who sits there, squinting back. (In shame.)

“Roll call boogie, check, check. Roll call boogie, check, check. So check. Us. Out.” I yell out to myself in the kitchen (the dog has walked away). “My name is Jackie, YEAH. I have a big grin. YEAH. I’ll tell you one thing, YEAH. This team is gonna win!”

Before I’m done dancing and pretending to remember the cheer, I realize my 10-year-old daughter is not only ignoring me, she is running from me, screaming, “Mom, please stop! My eyes are burning!”

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