When I was in fifth grade, it was 1996, and I was fully embracing the decade's grunge aesthetic. I listened to Nirvana, bowed at the altar of the grunge girl trifecta - Alanis, Gwen, and Jewel, and messed with Ouija boards at slumber parties after watching The Craft for the 10,000th time.
My friends and I hated the 'preps' - the other preteen girls who wore Mudd jeans and ripped posters of Leonardo DiCaprio and JTT out of their TeenBeat magazines. They listened to the Spice Girls, had moms in the PTA, and - worst of all - joined cheer squads.
I hated football season. The boys would come to school in their football jerseys before a big game like they were pro athletes, and the girls would come in with their cheer clothes and their ponytails extra high on their heads. My friends and I would make fun of the herd mentality of it all, and we swore we'd never cave to the mainstream.
That is, well, until Paul moved to the neighborhood.
Paul was my next door neighbor, and the eldest son of a guy who made his money from making those World Series Champions t-shirts. Needless to say, the entire family had sports running in their blood and were huge Dallas Cowboy fans. It was only time before Paul was joining the football team himself.
I had the biggest crush on him, although he wasn't nearly anywhere near the type of guy I'd be into. He was definitely a jock type who was into playing soccer on his lawn over staying inside and playing video games like the other boys I knew. He taught me about Deion Sanders and Troy Aikman. I remember the day I begged my parents to buy me my Emmitt Smith jersey. Paul liked the Cowboys, so I liked the Cowboys too.
And eventually, I convinced my mom to enroll me into cheer.
Yes, for a year, I became one of them. I remember the day my mom received the laundry list of things we needed to buy to finish off my uniform. It was the year we found out what 'wigwam' socks were and that there were entire magazines dedicated to cheerleading-friendly hairstyles.
The cheerleaders I knew in school were kind of confused as to why I was there. I couldn't tumble. My high kick needed some work. (But hey, in my defense, if anyone needed a spotter to watch them pull off an aerial stunt, I was your girl.)
My friends were also scratching their heads as to why I would join the squad. As far as they knew, I hated cheerleaders. But I changed my story quickly, insisting I had always wanted to join the squad and was so excited to finally have the opportunity!
I thought this would make him like me. Spoiler Alert: It didn't.
Overall, my year of cheer (hey, that rhymed) was a huge learning experience. I learned a whole lot of cheers. I could do a 'front hurdler' (and actually knew what a 'front hurdler' was). And at the end of the cheer season, I got a special certificate congratulating me on cheering the loudest cheers! (Damn right! Team spirit doesn't get lost on me!)
It also taught me that going completely against who you are is really not the best way to win someone over. And the trope of football player and cheerleader in love is totally corny anyway. (I mean, hello, gender norms. Get with the times. It's the 90s, after all.)