Twenty girls of varying age and athletic ability take first place in their first ever competition. They were the underdogs, the new kids. Their uniforms didn't sparkle like those on the other squads - no glitter, no bedazzling. Their bags don't match and their makeup is non-existent. They are lacking the air of confidence of the girls around them who have done this a dozen times, and walk into the arena with fear and wonder, taking in every site with the amazement of a little girl at a Disney princess festival yet with "what did I get myself into?!" thoughts clearly visible in their young faces.
Three months ago, this squad didn't even exist. Two practices and a football game each week, on pavement and a corner of the football field turf, in the heat, in the cold, in the rain, and, eventually, in the dimly lit darkness was all the time they got to build themselves up as a team, learn the cheers for their football sideline duties, and somewhere in there, learn a simple routine for the county exhibition at the end of the season. BRYC Cheer is an intro program. Low key. A way to get kids in our community to not only love cheer, but to build up the character skills we hope they'll have for life. We're not all stars. Most of our girls can't even do a front roll, let alone a handspring. And so when we asked the older squads if they'd be interested in cheering for two local competitions as an extension of their season, it was more to give them a sneak peek into the new competition program we were starting in the winter; a marketing ploy of sorts, cloaked in a fun opportunity.
Twenty girls: a second grader, a handful of elementary school kids, two high school teens and a dash of middle schoolers, crowd into a local church fellowship hall for their first practice. Six of the girls are brand new to the squad. Five practices to get it perfect. Not one complaint. No matter how hard we pushed, they pushed themselves harder. And the day of their competition, as they took the stage, some of them were visibly shaking. The girls lined up before them had obviously been cheering for a while. The girls on the practice mats behind them were doing stunts they'd only ever seen the night before in Bring it On. "Are you sure we should be here, coach?" But the music started and they smiled and it was ON! Every move precise, every stunt solid, choreographed to show their core value of ONE TEAM. And when they ran off the mat with shouts of "Go Blue!" and "Alright, Braddock!!" they had no concept of winning a trophy, just the complete satisfaction of knowing they did their best and it was AWESOME!!
The afternoon continued with the girls watching the other squads, more advanced teams taking the floor as the afternoon continued and the music blared. They commented on their moves, pointed out the good, the cool, what they could learn from each other. They congratulated the other teams.
And then...it was time.
Seated on the mats, the fact that there could be a trophy involved began to sink in. "But we're the new cheerleaders...it's ok if we don't win, we did our best" they whispered to each other. "For Level 1 Rec. Seniors...."the emcee boomed, "B! R! Y! C!" We did it! First place in our division! Shocked and excited, they hold the large green and purple trophy as if it is made of gold. The awards continue, the other, larger clubs winning award after award, some several in a row. BRYC claps and cheers for their accomplishments. And then, the tone changes. They look around and see the other squads holding hands, heads bowed, waiting with baited breath for their names to be announced, and then their screams and excitement when their squad is finally called, coaches hugging each other fiercely. Something is different about this award, they realize, and they start to pay a little more attention. "For Level 1, Rec, Grand Champions and a full paid bid to the Cheer Super Nationals...BRYC!" The girls jump up and cheer, imitating the excitement they had seen in the squads before them, and the parents follow suit: Great Job! They are happy to have simply won an award, they have no idea what it means. But then they see the look on our (the coaches) faces - astonished, excited, hugging each other - and slowly realize they have done something really big. The realization of what has just happened sinks in. Parents catch their breath, the excitement fills the faces of each girl...
"Wait, we won? Over those other squads? Does that mean we're the best?" Yes. Yes you are. Congratulations.