When I Was a Cheerleader

When I was a little girl and lived across the street from Key West High School, my favorite thing to do was watch the cheerleaders practice each afternoon. That began my pursuit of a High School career in cheer leading. It was what I wanted to do. So I was a Barefoot Football Cheerleader in 8th grade, a Junior Varsity Cheerleader in 9th grade and a Varsity Cheerleader in 10th thru 12th. My husband when he found out I had been a cheerleader, well; it was almost a deal breaker. He thought cheerleaders were stuck-up. I wonder if anyone is ever stuck-up today. Actually he said he was a dweeb. I was a dweeb also, but very focused. I was committed to becoming a cheerleader, my life-long ambition. I would and could not be denied.

Cheer leading back then was very different than today. At try-outs, all we had to do were a few jumps, a cartwheel and have a deep loud cheerful voice. Things have changed. I think cheer leading today is an NCAA sport. Male and female cheerleaders do back-flips, sometimes without even touching the ground. All we could ever manage maybe on a good day were back-bends. The male cheerleaders lift the females over their heads with the females standing on their hands, and then they shift so that they are holding them up on one foot while the female on top holds the other leg in the air; almost painful to watch. Three guys throw the females into the air where they do all kinds of contortions before coming down and safely caught. One time when the football team was doing pretty lousy, the guy in front of me shouted. “Send in the cheerleaders.”

Our football cheer leading uniform when I was a cheerleader was a knee length red pleated skirt with grey insets, a white long sleeve button down shirt, a sweater vest with a grey Key West on a conch shell on the front and, of course, saddle shoes with white athletic socks. We were so cool. And we had pom-poms that we made ourselves. The only chants I remember were, “First in ten do it again” And “Push them back, Push them back, waaay back.” Most of the time we knew what was happening. We were quiet when someone was hurt. One time, it was said that Bobby, the captain of the team told the coach when he was hurt. “I’m fine, but how are the fans taking it.” He really was the best cheerleader we had. He went on to play at Florida State and was well known for keeping the players pumped up.

At the beginning of the game we led the players out on the field singing with the band: “Fight down that field again, men of the crimson and grey. Get on that ball and then we’ll mow them down like new mown hay hay hay hay. Fight on to victory. Fight, fight with all your might; for there’s naught to fear, the Conchs are here, and we’ll celebrate with you tonight.” I think most of us had never seen or even knew what new mown hay was. And we certainly had never used the word naught. The band played during halftime and there were baton twirlers, who sometimes twirled with fire. The Conchettes, a dance team of about 50 girls performed with the band. Each summer, someone came from the Texas Kilgore College Rangerettes to teach them 10 routines. The Conchettes wore short white skirts, boleros with red ball fringe and sombreros also with red ball fringe on the rim. And white boots. Football games on Friday nights were quite a show.

During basketball season the cheerleaders wore short skirts and sneakers, with socks, of course. At the beginning of the game when the team was taking the floor, we chanted, “Jeepers creepers man alive, here comes Haskins Super Five. Do we love them, that’s no guess. Key West, Key West, yes, yes.” Haskins was the coach.

During Basketball season, we would take the Conch Bus, an old yellow school bus painted Red and Grey, to Miami for away games. We would leave school on Friday at One, the players in the back and the cheerleaders up front. We would get to Miami in time to put on uniforms and get to the game. We would stop at a restaurant afterwards for a bite and get back to Key West in the wee hours. This whole arrangement was fraught with fraught. On the way to Miami when nearing Tavernier, about two hours after lunch, the players would start. “Hey Coach, we’re stopping in Tavernier, right.” No. “Come on, Coach, have a heart.” No. Then they would start “Stop over by the roadside. Stop over by the ditches. If you don’t stop over, we’ll do it in our britches.” Coach usually stopped. Those boys would have made great cheerleaders. On the way back in the middle of the dark night, there was a certain amount of fraternizing between some players and cheerleaders and the driver would stop the bus, turn on the lights and order everyone back in their seats. This would happen a few times each trip. It took forever to get back home.

2 thoughts on “When I Was a Cheerleader”

  1. Too much fun! I’ll bet there were shenanigans in the back of the bus on those late down the causeway rides. For us, it was the band bus, but more serious hijinks in college than HS. Several of us married our band boys and babes. We had a music reunion, or rather, non-reunion (unofficial gathering) at our university this July and some of these matches made in Music were still going strong. Meanwhile, Joanne, you are a natural blogger! So glad Mary bugged you to blog!

  2. What can I say? I played in the band. We were busy during the game trying to get music up that our director wanted to play during the next break or doing the half-time routine. Right after half-time those of us that played in the jazz band would go to the gym and set up for the mixer that always occurred after the game. So I was pretty out of touch. Your description of travelling to out-of-town games sounds like it would have been a lot of fun. When our band travelled to out-of-town games we were always in our own bus. I just didn’t know what I was missing.

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