The parents’ viewing room at the gym of my daughter’s cheerleading team, The Aces of Cherry City, was full of activity as I waited for the start of practice. We were at the last practice before competing for the weekend, which would not only be the last cheer competition of the year, but the championship competition that would determine who won the entire season. The Aces of Cherry City were in first place coming into the weekend, but it didn’t matter how well they had done all season. What mattered was how well they did at this final competition because previous scores did not count and all teams would start from zero, essentially giving everyone a fair shot at the championship.
“Abby, can you believe the season is almost over?” Stephanie, one of the other cheer moms and my friend, said. We were all sitting together as we typically did while watching our girls—me, Stephanie, Jenny, and Diane. Prior to the season, I had been friendly with the cheer moms but not friends, if you get what I’m saying. But some crazy events that we had experienced together over these last few months had brought a new depth to our relationship. We’d been through murders, a missing teen, a judging scandal… you name it, we had seen it. So where I previously sat begrudgingly watching my daughter practice for three hours, I now welcomed the chance to socialize with the other cheer moms.
“I know. It’s one of those things that seems like it’s lasting forever when you are doing it. But then when it’s over, it seems like it went fast,” I said. The other women nodded their heads in agreement.
“Yes!” Jenny pumped her fist in the air as we watched her daughter land her tumbling pass. “She’s been struggling all season to do that move and has been taking extra tumbling lessons. I am so happy to see they are finally paying off.”
“She looked amazing out there. You would never know that she’d been struggling,” I said.
“All our girls make this look really easy, which, if you ask me, is why cheerleading doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves,” Diane said with just a hint of bitterness to her tone.
I totally understood her sentiment. Most people thought cheerleading was just jumping around on a football field, yelling a variation of ‘go, team, go’ and shaking some pom-poms. Some cheerleading was just that, and those cheerleaders also deserved credit for what they did, but the world of competitive cheer was much different.
The grueling practices, the girls flipping their bodies every which way on their tumbling passes, and the insane stunts made me happy Abby was a base and not the flyer. I didn’t think I could stand to see her body flying through the air, hoping to get caught on the way down. Not that she was without injury. She had had two concussions and even had a few teeth knocked loose after getting kicked in the face when someone came down from a stunt. Competitive cheerleading was not a sport to be treated lightly. I had always known that, but this season, as I’d become more involved, I realized even more how rough it was. These girls were fierce athletes and were as tough as nails.
“Well, you know, there is talk of cheerleading becoming an Olympic sport. Even if it never makes it that far, the fact that it’s even being considered speaks volumes about where the sport is today in terms of recognition for the athletes,” I said.
“What do you guys think of the new choreographer?” Diane asked, changing the subject. I assumed she brought up the topic because the new choreographer, Jeremiah Oslo, was on the floor with our girls gesticulating as he was explaining something to them.
“He’s supposed to be the best choreographer in the business,” Stephanie said.
“I heard that too, and I can’t believe we got him for our gym,” Diane said.
“Well, I heard he has a reputation for following the winners, and we’ve been winning all season,” Stephanie said. “I’m not sure I like his lack of loyalty, though.”
“As long as we keep winning, it won’t be an issue,” Diane said.
Jeremiah had been the coach and choreographer for the Kindville Cougars for the last two years and they had held the number one spot. They had fallen down in the standings this year, while the Aces of Cherry City had climbed to the number one spot. So, it did look as if he was fickle, wanting to work for whoever was winning.
“What I say is that we take all the knowledge we can from him. Not that I don’t think our girls will win or be winners next year, but to have a choreographer of his caliber is truly a cheer blessing,” Diane said.
“Speaking of the Kindville Cougars, I kind of feel bad for them,” I said, thinking about how heartbroken I would be for Ashley and her team if they were having a bad year.
“Why?” Jenny asked me.
“Well, they lost their best coach, and you know how hard it had to be on the girls. They’ve done horrible this year. Not even placing in the top five. I wouldn’t feel so bad if they hadn’t lost their coach.”
“I guess you have a point,” Jenny said, glancing at the floor, not wanting to meet my eyes.
“To be honest,” Diane said, “I’m surprised they’ve done as well as they have. I’m not sure Taylor could bounce back and keep cheering if something happened to Coach Becky.”
“Yeah, Ashley either. There have been so many negative things that happened this season. I’m just hoping this competition goes off without a hitch. Especially since it’s in our own town.”
Cherry City was a small town but was centrally located in southern Illinois. A few years ago, the city had had the good fortune to get a state-of-the-art convention center built. This year we lucked out and the final championship cheer competition was to be held there. I was so happy, because while I enjoyed spending time with Ashley, traveling out of town to all the competitions was tiring, so at least this was close.
The ladies and I sat in silence, watching the girls, and it thrilled me to see their practice going so well. Then suddenly Jeremiah, who was on the edge of the mat pacing back and forth, his eagle eye calling out corrections to the girls, let out a wail, clutched his chest, and collapsed. He thrashed around on the gym floor for what seemed like forever but was only a few seconds, and then he stopped and all was quiet.
The moms and I looked at one another before we all jumped up, rushing onto the floor to see if we could help. When we reached Jeremiah, the girls were all huddled around while the on-duty trainer was frantically doing chest compressions. I whipped out my phone and called 911. As soon as I hung up, Evelyn, the trainer, looked up at us.
“I can’t get him to start breathing,” she cried, continuing to pump on his chest and administer CPR, but she finally turned to us, tears streaming down her face. “I think he’s dead.”