Saturday, September 18, 2010

How did someone like me ever become a cheerleading coach?

How a nonathletic, middle-aged, heterosexual male became a middle school/high school cheerleading coach and the lessons it taught him about life, teamwork, confidence and fatherhood.

Once upon a time I thought about using a blog as a jumping off point for eventually writing a book about being a male cheer coach. Never have seemed to find the time or the self-discipline. But at least one journalist told me that they thought I'd make a good feature story because there are so few male cheer coaches and that maybe I should consider writing a book about it someday. Not much to it yet, but here's a start.

"How did you ever end up coaching Cheerleading?"

Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one. Speaking as a Journalism teacher, if I wasn’t the male Cheer Coach, I’d probably encourage my students to interview him. I’d think there’s a story there, it certainly is a novelty.

When I attended the Iowa Cheer Coaches Association conference in Ames a couple of years ago, I was one of only two male coaches, and the other guy was coach at a junior college.

There has really only been one time, to my knowledge, that someone gave me a hard time about it. It was in L.A. An Athletic Director at another Christian school approached me, assuming I was one of the football coaches, to let me know something about that days game. When I explained to him that I wasn’t the football coach, I was the cheer coach, he laughed and made a homophobic joke and sympathetically asked me how I "got stuck" with cheerleading.

When I told him that I didn’t feel like I had been "stuck" with it and that I actually enjoyed it, he didn’t quite know what to do with me. He awkwardly back-stepped out of the conversation and made his way to the "real" coaches.

"So, how did you come to coach something like cheerleading?" I hear you ask. Alright, I’ll tell you.

I wasn’t ever particularly good at sports as a kid. Freshman year of college, I happened to be in the student union when some of the girls on the cheer squad came looking for guys to be "yell leaders." There were only four of them and they needed more to help them build pyramids.

I was full of school spirit and figured it was a great way to meet girls, so "what the heck." That was just one season, freshman year. My wife Bethany, on the other hand, didn’t cheer in college, but she did for years in high school.

The first year that we taught at Los Angeles Lutheran Jr/Sr High School, Bethany was expected to coach both junior high and varsity cheer. It didn’t take long for us to see that it was unreasonable to expect a rookie teacher to be expected to coach two sports simultaneously. When we approached our principal with the dilemma, he was more resourceful than we had anticipated. He had remembered from my file that I had cheered in college.

At first I was very reluctant, but we reasoned that Bethany and her high school cheerleaders could help me train my junior high cheerleaders. Besides we welcomed the additional stipend, meager as it was.

I have to tell you, if teaching is both one of the most difficult and yet most rewarding professions, coaching is even more so. You can’t get to know a student very well once a day during a fifty minute period alongside twenty or more other students, you can get to know them fairly well when you have just six or eight of them for a couple hours every single day. My hope and prayer is that by coaching, I can make a greater difference in the lives of a few young people.

I coached junior high cheer for about five years. After two or three, Bethany got out of coaching and took on other responsibilities as L. A. Lutheran’s Spiritual Life Director. No doubt, a step toward becoming a counselor, like she is today. During that time they went through several different Varsity coaches. I’d like to think that for a while, some of my junior high squads performed better than their high school counterparts. Eventually, they asked me if I would take over the varsity squad and assigned the junior high to a new rookie teacher.

I coached two more years in LA and I considered it a ministry, not just an after school activity. We prayed before and after games and once a week we had a meeting/Bible study kind of the way I imagine a Fellowship of Christian Athletes "huddle" might have at a public school. I wanted to be a "coach," and not merely a "sponsor," so I made every effort to work hard every practice and improve as much as we could. Our squads attended camps and attended workshops and combed through magazines and videos for ideas.

I’m honored to say that the cheer coach at Lutheran High in L. A. today cheered for me as a junior high student and for both Bethany and I as a high school student. It’s a kick to exchange email with her about what our squads are doing.

This is my third year coaching cheer at Boyer Valley and my ninth year coaching altogether. There are ups and downs, and anytime you’re dealing with teenagers, let alone teenage girls there are days when you feel like you’re going crazy. But it’s still a lot of fun, and as rewarding as ever. I may not be the best coach that’s ever been around the sport, and my squads may never get on ESPN, but I like what I do.

School spirit is important. Supporting the other teams, coaches, and athletes at our schools is important, and I’d like to think that being a positive adult male influence for young women is too.

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