Being on the pom-pom squad my freshman year was just the best. I loved it. I even loved walking up the horrendous flights of stairs through the woods to the PE building where we had two-hour practices, two or three nights a week. I loved the games, I loved being with the other girls, and I loved the cute outfits. I was in the locker room changing clothes one time and overheard two girls talking about how good the UW-EC pom-pom girls were. I felt so genuinely and positively proud.

UW-Eau Claire Pom-Pom Squad my freshman year, 1981.

We were 21 white girls and one black girl, Danita, who hailed from southern Wisconsin. Second semester, our height line changed when three girls dropped off the squad, moving Danita to the end. We joked that she was now the period at the end of the line. In general, UW-EC was, by and large, white back then, with black students typically being foreign exchange students or basketball players. That was our joke, anyway. Not sure it was very funny, or actually even a joke.

A rule in college that we hadn’t had in high school was that the whole squad had to stay for the whole game. It was often freezing cold, sitting on those metal bleachers for a football game, or seriously uncomfortable on the hard gym floor where we sat for the entirety of every basketball game. But that’s not really the part I remember. All of it was fun, and all of it was worth it.

In high school, our squad had worn plain white tennis shoes—“white pointies”—and knee socks. Thankfully, the year I joined the college squad we pitched the saddle shoes they’d been previously wearing in favor of white pointies. Then we added nylons and white ankle socks. Thirty-plus years later, I still think that was a good look.

The best part, the nylons provided a bit of warmth in the winter. I’d moved beyond the common practice in high school of walking to school on game day with bare legs and a short winter coat—in Northern Wisconsin, for heaven’s sake!—and usually pulled sweatpants on under my skirt. It was, after all, a twenty-minute hike to school now, and 10-below is really cold. (The marketing of wind-chill factor wasn’t a thing back then because 10-below is 10-below. There was no need to work at making it sound worse than it was.)

The last basketball game of the year was always the light show. The squad had acquired flashlights with cones over the light, like they use to direct airport traffic, and it was an annual highlight to turn off the lights in the gymnasium for the show. It was a real crowd pleaser. The only problem was, we had to do the show at the end of the game because it took the sodium-vapor lights a while to come back on, and they couldn’t risk delaying the game after halftime.

Our annual light show was a fan favorite.

At the end of my freshman year, it was down to the wire whether we would be going on to conference playoffs in Kansas City. The final game decided it. We also had a star player on our team that year, Tony Carr, who had broken the school record for points scored. The dilemma: At the end of our routine, we wanted to spell KC with our lights if we won, which we wouldn’t know until seconds before we ran onto the court. If we lost, our plan was to spell TC. We had practiced both options and were thrilled to hold KC up in the air, as the crowd of students went absolutely wild.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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