Growing Up

    How coming to the end of an era can be a good thing

    Bridget Kelley

    More stories from Bridget Kelley

    I miss very few things from high school. I think most college students feel this way.

    What I do miss, however, is high school sports. I was a cheerleader throughout high school. That team was my life. I ate, slept and breathed cheerleading.

    Cheerleading is the only sport at my high school that allowed me to participate for eight seasons, since we had a football season and a basketball season. This means we started practicing in late June to be ready for football season in August. Football often overlapped with basketball, which went until just about April. This means that I had from early April to late June free from cheer.

    And, of course, that didn’t mean that time was completely free from cheer. We held tryouts at the end of the school year to get a feel for the size of the next year’s team.

    Cheerleading was the first major decision I ever made for myself. My first practice in July 2013 was the first step toward who I was going to be. That sounds dramatic, yes, but it’s true.

    Cheer was the biggest thing in my life for years. I spent hours practicing choreography. I spent every day after school at cheer practice or at a football game. I did my homework while stretching. I walked around my house doing motions to cheers. It consumed my life.

    The last game I ever cheered at was a playoff basketball game. My school’s boys’ basketball team was playing at a neutral location, and both teams were allowed to bring their cheerleaders. I remember blasting music in the van on the way there. We were so convinced we were going to win. We didn’t.

    The last few minutes went by so slowly, almost as if in slow motion — or maybe that was just my brain holding on. We put up one last stunt with only a few seconds on the clock. We knew that was it. The student section started chanting, “Thank you, seniors,” signifying the end of a season. The buzzer went off, and we had lost.

    We always cheered the boys off the court, but it was so hard to know this was the last time. I cheered through tears before putting away my poms for the last time. My younger sister was also on my cheer team, and I remember her hugging me and telling me how proud she was.

    My coach told me it was okay for me to be sad, but that I needed to keep it together when we went for dinner. Something in what she said stuck with me. I was devastated, yes, but that didn’t give me an excuse to wallow. The end of cheerleading did not mean the end of Bridget.

    I was still allowed to cheer louder than anyone else. I was still allowed to smile bigger than the normal person. Just because I didn’t have a skirt and a bow didn’t mean I couldn’t dance anymore. I was still allowed to be the same old positive, high-strung teenager I was before we lost.

    I threw myself into cheer and assumed it as my identity my freshman year, so I didn’t know who I was without it. I have come to learn who I am without cheer, and she’s the same girl, just a little less flexible now.

    Kelley can be reached at [email protected].