The summer before I went into 8th grade, I tried out for cheerleader. This was nothing new. I had been trying out for cheerleader since I was in the 1st grade. I loved cheerleading. All my friends were cheerleaders. My sister was a cheerleader. Cheerleading was really all that I knew.
My mom was really great and would take us to get coaching from University of Alabama cheerleaders, and she took us to really great gymnastic classes. We knew how to do all the cool flips and loved to stunt. And, not to be too braggy, but it wasn’t uncommon for my sister or myself to earn the head or co-head title. In case you aren’t getting my point, I’ll just say it. We were pretty good. (At least we thought we were).
So, here I am at my 8th grade try-outs. For try-outs every year, all the girls would try-out inside our gym and then wait outside for the results. Once all the scores were tallied, the cheerleader coach would come and tape a brightly colored poster with all the names of the girls who made it outside the gym.
This year was a significant. At our school, there were only certain years you were eligible to be co-head. Since I was in 8th grade, I could qualify for co-head for our Jr. High team.
The list was posted. Everyone was screaming with joy. And you could hear a few girls walking back to their cars crying.
I immediately looked to see who made head or co-head.
Neither were me.
I was a little disappointed, but not too upset. One of my best friends made co-head, and I remember being very happy for her, hugging her and telling her congrats. Then I glanced back at the poster pretending to look at the names. When I glanced back at the poster, I realized everyone was starting to stare at me. Then my mom and my friends started to cry.
I didn’t really understand what was going on, because I hadn’t looked for my name, I just assumed it was there. Suddenly all cheers of joys were silenced. And I could hear everyone talking in a very serious tone and staring at me.
I looked at my mom with a puzzled look on my face and I remember her saying ‘you need to read the poster.’
My name wasn’t on there.
My name wasn’t on there!
It was the most devastating day of my young life.
I had no idea what I was going to do.
I really didn’t know if I was going to make it. I felt like my life had been taken from me.
I had no idea who I was going to sit with at football games. What was I going to do with all of my time after school while all of my friends were at cheerleader practice?
My whole world had been turned upside down. My disappointments were not about the fact that my talents were not good enough to make the team. I had cheered with the same group of friends since I was five. I became very overwhelmed thinking about what I was going to do with my time, and saddened thinking about my friends being together without me.
At that young age, when it was taken away, it became very clear that cheerleading was my identity. It was the only thing I had known until that point.
In an effort to cheer me up, my sister suggested that I try something else just for that year to keep me occupied. She suggested either volleyball since it was in the fall and it would keep me occupied during football season, or karate to keep me occupied all year. Neither sounded great at the time, but I chose volleyball.
I tried out and made the team.
I ended up loving it.
I don’t know that I would have ever tried out for volleyball if I had not been looking for a sport that was played during the fall (a cheerleaders busiest season) that could keep me occupied during that football season.
Not making cheerleader that year turning out to be a huge blessing in disguise. I continued playing volleyball throughout high-school. I also received a full scholarship to a junior college playing volleyball.
I had all the skills of a great cheerleader, but I am five feet eight inches tall. I am not built to be a college cheerleader. There was no way to know that in the 8th grade. However, I was built to be a college volleyball player.
I am so thankful now that I did not make the cheer team that year. I had given myself one identity. Being forced me to look beyond that was extremely hard, but very rewarding.
I would later find my ultimate identity in Christ, an identity that can never be taken away from us. That is a story for another day.
By the way, I did end up trying out for cheerleader again the next year. And I made co-head.
Have you ever had your identity shattered?