It was the summer before freshman year and the flyers about Wilson’s cheer team were broadcast all over social media. Nervous and excited, I prepared myself for August tryouts. Being a cheerleader at Deal, I had admired Wilson’s cheer program for years, especially when Wilson and Deal shared the same coaches. Tryouts came around and I made the team, beginning my four year journey through Wilson’s cheer program.
Out of all my years cheering at Wilson, my freshman year was the most memorable. It started off with summer training where we learned and practiced all the cheers we would perform at football games. We also got an early start learning the stunts we would perform during competition season.
I remember my first high school football game quite vividly: McKinley Tech vs. Wilson. I was beginning to truly understand what it meant to be a Wilson cheerleader. The sun was set high in the sky and as the game began, I felt at home in my position on the track. Wilson won that game, and in that moment, I felt that I had truly become a Wilson Tiger.
To be honest, before cheering at Wilson, I didn’t know much about football. But as I continued to cheer at the games, I became a fanatic. At the end of football season, I cheered for Wilson at the Turkey Bowl. Although I was upset that Wilson lost, I was extremely proud of how far the football team had gone, and I couldn’t wait for a rematch.
Basketball season crept up, which meant learning a whole new set of cheers. Basketball was an entirely different beast compared to cheering for football; basketball games are more frequent, meaning more late nights with little time to practice for competition, all while keeping up with my academics. Throughout my years of cheering, I’ve always preferred basketball season to football because it is great to get out of the cold, and it provides a more intimate setting for the cheerleaders, basketball players, and fans.
Our basketball team ended the season by securing DCIAA and DCSAA wins, which hadn’t happened in years. It was now spring, so our sole focus was competitions. We had worked all year to get to this point.
Hitting the competition mat in the advanced category of the DCIAA championships, Wilson walked away with third place. Hungry to beat our rival Banneker, we approached DCSAA championships ready to set the competition floor ablaze. This season was especially hard because we lost a flyer and a base to injuries, but nonetheless we managed to hit all of our stunts. Although we ended with a second place trophy, we walked away knowing we had put blood, sweat, and tears into the season.
After my first year of cheering in high school, there was no question that I would return next season. Our 2016-2017 coach’s decision to pursue other things left us without leadership. Optimistically, I had no doubt that our new coach would be just as good as our previous one and Wilson cheer was ready to take on the new season.
Unfortunately, as we neared the beginning of our 2017-2018 season, Jamahri Sydnor, our beloved cheer sister and friend, died. This loss brought a rough start to the season, especially for returning members of the team. We used Jamahri’s death as a motivator to work harder than ever, knowing that all we wanted to do was make her proud of the legacy she’d left behind.
Without the luxury of practicing at Deal with proper cheer mats, our team was left with limited equipment and space. We were forced to practice in the atrium for the first half of the season using wrestling mats. Eventually, we were told to move our practices to the small space in front of the auditorium. With only two donated mats, we had to make do with very little. Practicing and learning cheers for football and basketball season was pretty easy to adjust to in the new space, considering that we could teach and learn cheers just about anywhere. But practicing for competition season became an issue. We only had two mats, while the standard mat layout for competition is about seven, and the ceilings were too low for us to safely practice stunts. As the DCSAA competition approached, we were once again left disappointed as our circumstances prevented us from going to states with our entire team.
We were able to attend DCIAA that season, but we were unable to go to states. We used the experience to remind ourselves that we must always be prepared for the unexpected.
It was then my junior year, and just like the previous season, we lacked a coach. Nervous about our new coaches, I was still optimistic about our season and what the future held for the Wilson cheer family. Our season started off well. With new coaches and a new attitude about the season, we began to amend our repertoire by adding, changing, and removing cheers. We started to build our competition team, while successfully acquiring practice space in the auxiliary gym and atrium. Our coaches hired a tumbling coach who would come to Wilson weekly to help us improve our technique and skills. This year in particular was unique; sticking together as a team, we were able to overcome many challenges (ie. tension between the coaching staff and the team).
After a short break, we bounced back under the excellent leadership of Ms. Mercer and Ms. Lane, finishing out the basketball season strong. Usually during basketball season, we cheer on the gym floor, but that year we tried something new. We began to cheer seated in the stands alongside the crowd, which drew a great amount of attention to us. However, due to DCSAA basketball regulations, we reverted back to standing while cheering.
We celebrated the basketball team’s DCIAA win, and cried with them during their DCSAA loss. Unable to attend competition for the 2018-2019 season because of our sudden change in coaches, we began to plan ahead for the upcoming season. Due to personal reasons, our head coach was unable to return for the next season, leaving us once again without coaching staff.
Fortunately, we were provided with a new coaching staff before the end of the school year, leaving the team to enter the 2019-2020 season with high hopes. Just like freshman year, Wilson’s cheer team was able to begin training right as summer break started, successfully preparing us for the upcoming football season, while simultaneously building skills necessary for competitions. Securing practice space in the auxiliary gym for the first half of the season and the atrium for the second half has provided our team with a sense of security, knowing that we always have a space to practice in, even if it may require us to stay late at school.
As my high school cheer journey comes to an end, I can wholeheartedly say that I’m blessed and honored to be part of the Wilson cheer family. While these past four years have not been easy, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Wilson cheer has taught me many things, most importantly lessons of sisterhood and family. It is the trust and bonds we’ve created as a team that has allowed us to undergo every struggle and success that we have experienced together. As we like to say: “So hard to be a Wilson Tiger!” •