WOOSTER, Ohio – As cheerleaders at a small school, they had a lot working against them.
They huddled on the sidelines during gusting winds and thundershowers, rooting on teams that maybe wouldn’t win the football game.
They hollered go-fight-win chants to give confidence to other Triway Titan athletes and pepped up their classmates, but the stigma was still there.
Rigorous practices – hours spent at gymnastics classes and racing laps around the school while they cheered – perfected their tumbling, their stamina, their lung capacity.
They were good. Still, not many noticed.
After all, everybody knows cheerleading isn’t a sport.
It would take a little screwing around and a few foolish poses to get others to take them seriously.
* * *
It started in Florida.
“You know how grandmas are,” says Kelly Miller, rolling her eyes. Her squad of varsity cheerleaders giggles.
Miller’s grandmother, a snowbird in Lake Placid, Fla., clipped a newspaper article early last spring and mailed it to Ohio.
It said advertising executives for those popular “got milk?” magazine stints were searching for their next big stars – a peppy varsity squad to model milk mustaches.
Here in Wooster, Miller showed the clipping to her team of 12.
Though farms in their county boast the biggest dairy herd in Ohio – and Wayne County dairy cow numbers ranked 47th in the nation in the 1997 agriculture census – they hadn’t been targeted through newspaper announcements to enter.
The girls – sophomores, juniors and seniors – knew they had what those executives might be searching for.
But despite their positive attitudes and the typical cheerleader’s inborn confidence, not a single one thought they could win.
In their minds, one thing echoed: “We’re just a bunch of farmers around here.”
Daughters, nieces and friends of dairymen, they vowed to prove everyone wrong.
* * *
The young ladies know milk’s place, not just in the parlor but also on the table.
Coach Miller grew up on a 400-cow dairy just outside Wooster. Now that she’s got a place of her own, she hosts sleepovers for her squad.
Feasts on candy, chips and pop soon turned healthy. Fruits and vegetables replaced the sweets, and jugs of milk emptied faster than bottles of Coke.
Though not every one of the girls likes a tall glass of milk after school – count those few among the 58 percent of teen cheerleaders nationwide who don’t include milk in their diet – they do realize they need 1,300 mg of calcium a day to keep their smiles radiant, their bones sturdy.
* * *
Miller’s grandma continued to send newspaper clippings from a school nearby her winter haven, a school whose cheerleaders were finalists in the contest.
The dauntless dozen kept tabs on them, watching as they flaunted “got milk?” promotional items and even had a squad member dress up like a cow.
They agreed they needed luck to top them and the other squads from Indiana, Nevada and New York, schools with hundreds more students, more cheer training, more everything.
But they didn’t necessarily need more heart.
The girls pooled their resources, saved milk jugs and crossed their fingers.
* * *
The “we’ll notify the winners by May 28” deadline came and went. No phones rang, no congratulatory letters arrived. The ladies accepted their defeat and pulled their way through final exams. They had tried. It was the best they could do.
Just today and tomorrow, and then fun in the sun all summer.
Three cheerleaders were wracking their brains for one of Miller’s business exams when the teacher’s phone rang. A call had been patched through the front office from American Cheerleader magazine.
Had the squad won, an ad featuring them would have appeared in that magazine. How nice of them to call and let us down easy, Miller thought.
The caller said more than 50 schools had entered. So many entries had shown the creativity they were looking for. Triway was so small, so different, almost off the radar.
* * *
Video footage of the ladies in the alleyways in Stan and Karen Carmony’s freestall barn and inside the milking parlor may have swayed judges.
Maybe it was their chosen spot to perform their cheer – in front of rows of calf hutches.
Then again, maybe it was the girls’ creativity, the way they strung empty milk jugs into the letter T, their infectious enthusiasm for life, for cheering, for dairy.
They were the cream that had risen to the top.
* * *
Do you want
Strong teeth and bones?
Milk is the best!
Drink more milk is the plan,
Being healthy is where you’ll stand!
Watch out osteoporosis
We’ll show you how it’s done.
Striving for a healthy life,
Drinking milk is FUN!
* * *
You’re a zillion times more likely to see an Amish buggy on the roads between Wooster and Shreve, nestled in the heart of Ohio’s dairyland, than a sleek white limousine.
But that’s just how they came when high-level executives and producers visited Triway High School, population 698, last summer to see their top picks in person.
Armed with makeup artists, cameras, lights, a blender and food stylist, the team set to work to beautify the girls for what would drag on into nearly eight hours of grueling work.
Eight hours for a single photo that would appear in one magazine.
Those eight hours were double the time it took the ladies to shoot their video when they discovered they were finalists.
But this time, the ladies weren’t nervous about their skills and could enjoy the limelight.
They didn’t have to worry about giggling every time they jumped and said ‘osteoporosis’ for their “got milk?” cheer – the squad’s hello cheer, with the words changed. It all felt familiar.
They arrived at the school, were fussed over and primped by professionals, and sipped official “got milk?” milkshakes – whipping cream, Häagen-Dazs ice cream and a generous splash of ice cold milk.
Wearing frothy milk mustaches wasn’t a bad idea in late July.
It was the perfect end to a school year, seniors’ cheer careers, and the beginning of a new era.
* * *
Word spread of their skills, their award, their Titan pride.
Phones began ringing with requests for the ladies to appear at farm tours, parades, dairy promotion events, to help with elementary school reading programs.
The squad – “hardworkingspiritedawesome,” in the words of one member – revels in its victory.
Remember the 2002 Titans. It’s something they’ll remember forever.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
* * *
Gimme some H-E-L-P, please
WOOSTER, Ohio – As part of the Triway Titans varsity cheerleading squad’s prize, the ladies were treated to a $500 gift certificate to update their cheer gear and guidance from Universal Cheerleading Association professionals at a summer camp.
At that camp, five Triway cheerleaders were selected as all-stars and are eligible to represent their school in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
According to cheer coach Kelly Miller, transportation and other costs have kept the ladies from committing to cheer in the parade.
To make a donation so the cheerleaders may attend the parade, contact Miller at the school by calling 330-264-8685.
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