In the spring of my freshman year, the pom-pom squad had three events to finish out the season. First, there was a party (not like we hadn’t had enough of those.) Second, there was a banquet. And third, there was the vote to elect the next year’s captain and co-captain.

The party was held at our captain’s house—I have no idea how we got 20 girls into one living room—and what Wendy said was that unbeknownst to us, someone had been filming our performances all year, so now we were going to get to see ourselves in action. How exciting is that? Actually, unbeknownst to us, Wendy had joined up with Aaron, one of the male cheerleaders, to get us a porn movie. I don’t know how much of that movie we watched—quite a lot, as I seem to recall—hooting and hollering the whole time. To this day, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

For the banquet, we rented out the back room of Houligan’s Bar & Restaurant, where I would later work for a year or more as a cocktail waitress and bartender. I don’t know how I got tapped to be the group’s historian for the year—I probably just raised my hand and offered to do it—and my only job was to give a review of our fun times together at the end of the year.

I had taken my task seriously, and every day after practice and games I jotted down a few notes about the quirky or zany things that had happened. After spending that much time together, I was able to put together a rather hilarious summary that when served with alcohol was a big hit.

As for the vote, that resulted in a whopper of a surprise. We had been encouraged to give serious thought to who we wanted for captain the next year, which I had done. After two minutes of consideration, I thought the co-captain Shelly would be it. I liked her, she was super-funny, and well, I was head down, paying attention to my classes that included advanced chemistry, calculus and biology. My grade point average ended up at 3.62 after my first year, which wasn’t as good as I would have liked—especially for heading on to med school—but not too shabby. I studied all the time when I wasn’t performing or practicing with the squad.

So we gathered in a classroom in the PE building, and three girls were nominated as candidates for captain: me and two others. I hadn’t seen that coming. We were asked to step out into the hall so the squad could review our merits and take a vote. The three of us pretended to look at the pictures of sports teams on the wall and read all the captions. A short while later they called us back into the room and announced that I had been elected captain of the next year’s squad. I didn’t know what to say. I was incredibly flattered, but I didn’t want it. I was in pre-med!

And that’s the position that about sunk my little boat. OK, in fairness, I got straight B’s the next year. But in all honesty, B’s were not what I was told I needed to get into medical school. I took the biggest hit in the fall. Every year, our squad hosted a pom-pom competition for high schools throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. Hundreds of girls came, and much of the organization for the whole thing fell on me.

Late in the summer, before classes started, I was sitting in my living room, stuffing, sealing and stamping—by tongue!—200 invitations. And then sending out more follow-up letters once the semester got rolling. (Life before email was tragic.) Then the competition had to be organized, the judges selected, the breakout sessions planned, and on and on. Event management is a beast and anyone who has ever planned a wedding knows what I mean.

The all-day event itself was a huge success, with the winning squads performing at halftime for the basketball game that night. This was also a big fundraising event for our squad—another being our basketball game played against the basketball players while riding donkeys—so at the end of the day, I sat in my living room counting the cash. We had collected thousands of dollars. One important detail of the day that I carefully oversaw: Guard the cash box!

The teacher in charge of our bank account was also one of the people working at the scoring table for the game. So I taped the money into a brown paper bag and walked it up to school, petrified of being mugged. No one knows you have this. No one knows you have this. Just be cool. Mr. Peterman and I had talked on the phone about the drop, but I sure felt weird walking into the gym that night carrying that package filled with thousands in cash and sliding it across the table to him.

If I have any regrets about my time on the squad, it would be this. First, that routine I created for tryouts our sophomore year, to Caught Up in You by .38 Special, was way too hard. What was I trying to prove? I had made up the routine in my kitchen that summer after freshman year while wearing out a cassette in my crappy little—read: huge—boom box. Also that summer, I had the police at my door one day when a neighbor complained about my loud music. I’d been cranking a cassette of A Chorus Line and singing along at the top of my lungs.

Second, my co-captain and I should not have colluded to keep an annoying but deserving girl off the squad. We thought we could play God, then threw the score sheets into the incinerator so we wouldn’t get caught. When I saw her perform in a dance ensemble our senior year, grooving to those awesome tunes from the movie Footloose, I was glad to see she’d landed on her feet. Still, what we did was wrong, and I knew that even then.

Here’s what else was wrong: I had nowhere else to go as a pom-pom girl after that. I still loved what we did, but I couldn’t do that again. I couldn’t sign up for being captain another year—even though it could have been possible and I was being encouraged to do it—but then again, could I be on the squad now and not be captain?

When try-outs came along in the fall, I had changed housing and was now living with eight girls from the squad in one of those hard-to-heat old houses a few blocks off Water Street. I struggled mightily with the decision of being on the squad again—the opportunity for captain had come and gone in the spring when the new year’s slate was elected—finally breaking down and showing up for the first day of try-outs. But I didn’t come back the second day. I was like Cassie in A Chorus Line, a former star dancer who now just wanted the “music and the mirror and the chance to dance.” But I no longer fit in.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

Next Chapter
Return to Walker Contents