So the NFL has its first male cheerleaders, supporting the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams–favorite team of Tom Being Tom— which I think is a fantastic thing. I’m all for gender equality and when the cold weather comes I believe the women who’ve worked so hard to become cheerleaders will appreciate that now they too can wear itchy polyester slacks and sweaters. It’s about time the NFL made this change. College football teams have had male cheerleaders since, well, at least as far back as the 1920’s—it wasn’t exclusively for women, especially back in the day when most colleges weren’t coed. And I feel like I was kind of an accidental trendsetter because I almost tried out for the cheerleading team when I went to McMurray Middle School from seventh to eighth grade. Granted it wasn’t intentional. In the first week of school there was an announcement made over the intercom that anyone who’d like to be a school “Spirit Booster” was welcome to sign up. I had no idea what a Spirit Booster was but it sounded like a fun thing. And my Scout troop used to compete with other troops in the area for something called the Troop Spirit Award, given out to the Scouts that had the most fun, and I was always up for a good time and found that getting my fellow Scouts to laugh and tell jokes and tunelessly sing stupid songs was a great way to get out of boring stuff like tying knots, digging latrines, or putting up tents so we could get out of the rain. Being a Spirit Booster also sounded vaguely theatrical and I was disappointed that my school didn’t have a drama club. MacMurray did have a stage at one end of the gym, but it was kept permanently curtained and never used. Even during the year-end ceremonies a microphone stand was set up in the middle of the gym floor. I still have no idea why the stage was never used but I think it was because the school principal believed Satan was behind anything theatrical. He was an extremely eccentric character—the principal, I mean, not Satan–named Aloysius Waddell. He was a hundred and eight years old, stood six-foot-six, and had to wear special lead shoes because he weighed only ninety-three pounds and a gentle breeze could knock him over. We’d only get glimpses of him in the afternoons when he stood at his office window watching us leave, his beady black eyes turning independently of each other, like a chameleon’s. I only got to see him up close once when I was sent to his office and walked in without knocking and found him pouring paint thinner into a coffee mug, which was a whole different kind of spirit boosting, but that’s another story.
Anyway I was the only boy who showed up for Spirit Booster tryouts and even though they were short a team member the teacher in charge informed me they didn’t have any itchy polyester slacks, only itchy polyester cheerleader’s outfits and even if I could pull off a miniskirt it would be better for everyone if I didn’t pull one on, and really I lost all interest when I learned that being a Spirit Booster meant I’d have to go to every football, basketball, and baseball game.
In ninth grade I went to Overton High School which was much bigger but still didn’t have a drama club, mostly, I think, because of a lack of budget and interest and, after seeing the school talent show, a lack of talent, so a friend suggested I try out for the cheerleading squad. So I did. He told me later he was kidding, but really the joke was on him because I made the team. Being a large school Overton had several cheerleader squads with a hierarchy: the first string were football cheerleaders, the second string were basketball cheerleaders, then baseball, and so on. I really boosted the spirits of the croquet club.