When I was 13 my family moved to a new town where, I prayed, I’d have another shot at being popular. Indeed, my new-girl status vaulted me to the middle of the social strata in my 8th grade year. But it was plain as my dishwater blonde hair that I’d never climb higher unless I made cheerleader.
I went out for the JV squad in May. The odds weren’t good: Spots for eight rising freshmen and sophomores. Four incumbents likely to keep their pompoms. 80 girls auditioning.
The winners would be chosen by totaling the points from three categories of competition – judges’ assessment of cheering skills, students’ popular vote and teachers’ rating of academic promise and/or moral fiber.
According to the judges I was run of the mill, lacking in true teen spirit I supposed (since I was interested only in personal gain). The students placed me below average, assuredly because of my flat chest and legs so skinny my knee socks constantly puddled around my ankles. But in the teachers’ opinion I was Number One, perhaps due to the influence of my parents, both of whom served on the faculty. For once, being a teacher’s kid had its perks.
I came in 9th and was named as first alternate in case one of the lucky eight was killed in a drunken car crash (or died from anorexia, which actually happened the following spring but basketball season was nearly over so they didn’t bother altering the deceased’s skirt to fit me). I was devastated not to make the original squad, and felt cheated when I wasn’t asked to step up to the sidelines and take over for Janet Cookman.
Looking back now, it was a narrow escape. How close I came to disaster! I could easily have ended up being popular in high school, and that surely would have ruined my life.