They are to stand in three (almost) straight lines on the shiny wooden floor. Tennis shoes screech loudly in that nails-on-chalkboard yet oddly satisfying way that they sometimes do on gymnasium floors, as 46 feet swivel into position.
Bodies rigid, arms at sides. Heads down. They do not wiggle. They do not fidget. They do not risk even a glance to the side. They stand so perfectly still that I wonder if they remember to breathe.
After an eternity, the music starts and in a split-second they burst into a blur of color and motion. They are all arms and legs and bobbing heads. Smiles are wide (are they frozen in fear or spirit?).
If you watch closely, you can see the almost imperceptible bob of some heads and movement, ever so slight, in the lips as they count off the beat “1-2-3” spin and move.
They have been warned, via horror stories passed down from coaches, that the unthinkable could happen: The music could stop. They would then have to continue in utter silence. The counting is integral to making sure they could.
This has all the merit of having to leap from a plane and wondering if your parachute would open even as you pray you never have to find out.
Cheer. They are junior varsity (read: pee-wee) cheerleaders. They are 8 to 10 years old. They are in a local gymnasium competing against a handful of other squads.
There are no Olympic medals, new cars, or cash prizes. Yet they are as focused on this as they have been on anything in their entire lives.
Therein lies the rub. To these 23 little girls, “their entire lives” seem infinite. I don’t doubt that for the assemblage in the stands, their “entire lives” is but a blink in time.
How is it possible that these little girls now stepping and jumping and dancing and lifting are capable of such things? Weren’t they just yesterday pulling themselves up to walk, a few halting, toddling steps into our arms?
Now they cartwheel across the floor.
They are young enough to still be cautioned not to carry the “good” (read: breakable) dishes from the dining table to the sink, yet can lift their friend above their own heads on a hardwood floor? Go figure.
Stars. They are not perfect We see the flaws – however slight – in the performance. The slightest hesitation, the tiny bit off the mark and yet, we cannot stop smiling because to us they are brilliant. They shine. They are stars.
Granted, we aren’t exactly an unbiased audience. We are, after all, their parents.
Yet, there is more. I have to tell you the “back story” of this little junior varsity cheer squad. It is an “open” squad. No tryouts. Any girl of third grade age can join. Most squads have maybe a dozen or so girls. This one had 23.
Bless the coaches (unpaid volunteers) who brought us this far. I couldn’t get 23 small children to walk in a straight line, let alone complete two minutes of highly choreographed dance.
As you might imagine, in the early days of practice they were somewhat the “Bad News Bears” of the cheer world. Hearts in the right place even if their feet rarely were.
Practice. They began practice in the wilting heat of mid-summer and the mommy in me was sure from the start that it was too hard, too hot, too much. They were too young. They couldn’t handle it.
Yet they practiced, practiced, and practiced again. They broke it down, turned it up, and in the end could do the routines in their sleep (and often in mine). Seemingly thousands of hours of performance brought us to this moment. Twelve weeks of practice meeting two minutes of opportunity.
The coach had spent hours upon hours telling us – and them – that they could do it. They WOULD do it. I was sure that she was insane. In truth, she simply had more faith in my daughter than I did. They came in second.
They – we – were elated. Never has second been so sweet. I can speak only for myself, but in my eyes in an instant they went from too young, too small, too sweet, and, quite frankly, too many flaws to count into confident, accomplished and proud.
They behaved like young ladies and worked together as a team. They were, in every sense of the word, winners.
And from two minutes and a second-place medal came a lesson of a lifetime: that practice – and perseverance – pays off.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is extremely proud of any child who gives it his or her all. She welcomes comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org; http://kymberlyfosterseabolt.com; or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)
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