As I sit here here and write I am at a bit of a loss. Last night was the end of year/season banquet for my cheerleaders. It is always a great way to get some closure at the end of the cheer year. One main difference between cheerleading and other traditional sports is that our ‘season’ lasts nine months.
We start in June with tryouts. The kids get about 3 weeks to a month ‘off’ of cheerleading. During this time, we offer conditioning practices to help them stay in shape. It keeps them off the couch, a little. In mid July we start with basic practices. We use this time to get all team members to the same skill level and prepare for camp. We are also in the midst of our fundraising efforts. In early August, we attend a group camp. This is where we go to learn routines and new material for the upcoming season. We learn at camp how to work together as a team and where our biggest strengths and weaknesses are. After camp, we work on our back-to-school routines and prepare for the first football, volleyball and soccer games of the season. September and October lend to more practices, games, pep assemblies, charity work, fundraisers, etc. November is the close of the fall season. Depending on how well the football team does in the playoff race determines our break between seasons. At my school, we have a fall banquet and tryouts for the winter season. In December, we start great guns with new team members and basketball games. We try to take off time during the winter holiday break. In January we start again with games three nights a week, practices three nights a week, study halls, bonding, competition practices, more fundraising, charity events, working at wrestling tournaments, etc… the list goes on and on. The season usually ends dramatically in February with the boys basketball team attending the state basketball tournament and the cheerleaders attending their competition for the year.
Unfortunately the saturday after the season ends the kids start spring sports the following Monday. Over half of my team goes on to play Baseball, Softball, Track or Swim. Yes, baseball. I have had a coed cheer team for about 5 years. Because of length of the season and playoffs, the kids and coaches are left in limbo until the banquet.
Our banquet is not typically fancy. Usually the coaches make a banquet dinner of Spaghetti, Garlic Bread, Salad and Drinks. The kids bring potluck style desserts. During dinner, we watch a photo slide show of pictures from the season. We then take time to recognize and thank the team members, their parents, our coaches, and administration. The Junior Varsity coach takes some time to recognize the JV team with their certificates and the numbers that they sew onto the letterman’s jackets they will eventually earn. The Varsity coach then recognizes each varsity member with short stories about each person and awards them with their Varsity Letter and Megaphone pin. The captains are recognized and given special captains pins. Then we recognize the seniors. Each senior girl and guy receives a personal letter from the coach and team telling him or her why they will be missed. The girls get a gold megaphone necklace and the guys receive a personalized dog tag. These are only given to seniors and have become quite coveted. If there are any seniors that cheered for all four years of high school, they receive special recognition in the form of a photo slide show of pictures of them from all four years.
This is where I am at a loss. Each year as the season comes to an end I am ready to be DONE! I love my teams, but nine months is a long time to deal with these guys. As soon as the season ends and I am working on the banquet I start to reflect over the season and I start to miss them. As a coach we invest just as much time in our athletes as we do our own family. They become part of our lives. When it is over there is a small hole where that time was spent. In years past, I always coached Track and didn’t have much time to dwell on it. However, this year I am taking a year off and it is hitting me hard. I had eight seniors this year. Two 4-years, two 3-years, two 2-years and two that only cheered one year. All of them touched my life so much. My 4 year seniors (without their knowledge) helped me through a rough divorce, a new marriage, and a new baby. They were there to see me win coach of the year and were on the team the year we won the state cheer championship. They saw numerous assistant coaches and lived through a tough loss at competition last year. It was a hard night. Lots of tears and hugs. They will be greatly missed.
My husband has made me promise to take two weeks off cheer, for my sanity and really for his. He is not coaching track this year either. The opportunity came up for him to coach the golf team and he jumped on it. I am doing my best to plan when I will take these two weeks, but how do you give something up that consumes SO much of your time? I still work on cheer, but I am not trying to plan the entire year in one fell swoop. A little at a time, and I try hard not to talk about it too much so that he sees that, while I’m not giving it up, I am taking it slow and not letting it stress me out.
The point of all of this was to share a small glimpse into the heart of a cheer coach. We love our kids. That is the real reason we coach. It is not for the money and certainly not for the glory! We simply care, sometimes too much.
Thank you to my seniors. To my juniors, take the team and run with it. Let your leadership show. To the underclassmen, learn from the seniors and follow the juniors. It will be yours one day!