Sadly, it is time to officially announce my retirement. And to borrow from New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig, I can proudly proclaim that I, too, am the “luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Last week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the end of all indoor youth sports for the year, a preemptive strike against rising coronavirus cases. That announcement has meant that my season, and my coaching career, are now done. I have officially retired my cheer bow.
Six years ago, my then six-year-old daughter decided she wanted to be a cheerleader. After two seasons on the sidelines, rooting on Pop Warner football teams, Anna had to decide if she wanted to continue as a competition cheerleader, part of a team with a collective goal of getting to Nationals and Disney World. She told her head coach she would indeed return … under one condition. That condition was that I join them as a cheer coach.
Now, at the time, I knew absolutely nothing about cheer, particularly competitive cheer. I was good friends with a number of cheerleaders in high school. I was a huge fan of the movie Bring It On. But I didn’t know a high V from a broken T, a sponge from a cradle. I knew nothing, and wasn’t sure if I was up for learning.
My daughter was insistent, though, and I have always been about making Anna happy. So when her head coach emailed me welcoming me to her staff, I quickly let her know she didn’t need to acquiesce to my little negotiator. When the head coach insisted I was indeed welcome, I responded that my greatest contribution would likely be carrying mats, and I was just fine with that.
I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. For four years now, I trained and practiced and drilled and had a blast with a “gaggle of girls.” Each season, we spent hundreds of hours a summer and fall to get ready for competition. Hundreds of hours of hard work that ultimately would be judged by our two and a half minutes on the competition mat.
Through four seasons together, we experienced jubilation and heartbreak. I love all of “my girls” and am enormously proud of them. Proud not because of our Top 10 finish at Nationals or our securing second place at Globals, but because of how my girls evolved as young women. I had a front-row seat to watching an incredible group of athletes move from little girls to teens, helping them as they confronted the enormous challenges of such and directed it into being stronger cheerleaders and better, kinder human beings.
I was surprised at how close I got with so many of my girls, feeling at times like had 19 tween daughters (not something I recommend to anyone). I felt like I was a positive influence on their lives and they valued that I had made a commitment to them. I listened when they needed to be heard. I supported them when they needed their own cheerleader. I smiled when they needed a friendly face. And I was always present when they needed someone to depend on.
My four seasons as a competition cheer coach gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of accomplishment. I owe much of that to my girls. But I also owe so, so much to my fellow cheer coaches who allowed me to share a cheer mat with them.
From day one, I was welcomed, with open arms, into the sorority of cheer coaching. While I knew nothing, I was willing to learn. While I could do little at first, I was willing to put in the hours. While I was getting skeptical looks from cheer moms and football-coaching dads, I was doing it for my daughter and her friends. And from the start, I did so with the blessing and support of my fellow coaches.
For four years, I have been awed by the hard work, commitment, and dedication demonstrated by these incredible women. Each sacrificed their free time (and their not so free time) to help our girls. Each stood as a role model for these young women. Each taught them about cheer, but also about sportsmanship, and about life. Each was the sort of woman that every single one of our athletes should aspire to be like when they grow up.
For many months out of the year, for the past four years, I would spend more time with these incredible women than I would with my own wife. I certainly texted more with them! With each practice and competition, my fellow coaches made me feel more and more like part of their cheer family. While I may have been the first “boy cheer coach” our town has ever had, and I’ll likely be the last, I never felt like I didn’t belong or I wasn’t wanted.
Christine, Minda, Robin, and Reenauda will forever be my cheer family. These four remarkable women have been an inspiration, and they helped make me a better coach, dad, and man. While none quite knew what they were getting themselves into when I showed up for the first time that muggy August day, it is my hope that the positives I brought to their sorority made it all worth it, for our Wildcat cheerleaders and for them.
I’m so, so proud of my four seasons as a competition cheer coach. While I am sad that I will never wear my feather boa or tutu to competition again, I am enormously thankful to have had the opportunity. I will forever be a cheer dad, a cheer coach, and a WWP Wildcat cheerleader. And I couldn’t be prouder about it. I am truly the luckiest man on the face of the cheer earth.