Jamboree, one of the season’s most important cheerleading competitions, was well underway, and the music was pumping so loudly I felt like I was at a club. Well, what I vaguely remembered clubbing was like from many, many years ago. I couldn’t hear myself think, which back in the day I didn’t remember minding but now I found downright annoying. Not to mention I could barely hear a thing Stephanie, a fellow cheer mom, was saying, even though she was leaning over and shouting right into my ear.
“What?” I screamed, thinking it was a wonder, after eight years of attending these competitive cheer competitions to support my daughter Ashley, that I wasn’t deaf.
“Do you know who they’re competing against, Abby?” she yelled in my ear again and I swore I could feel her hot breath travel into my ear canal. I stifled the urge to rub my ear, not wanting to be rude.
“I’m not sure,” I said, even though it was doubtful she could hear me any better than I could hear her, so I shrugged my shoulders as if to say I don’t know. Which I didn’t.
“It’s the Kindville Cougars, our team’s biggest competition. We’ve never beaten them,” Jenny, the mom on the other side of me, replied. How the heck she heard what Stephanie was saying when I couldn’t was beyond me. Maybe I was going deaf from all the loud music?
“What?” Rhonda leaned across Stephanie to yell in my other ear, and I relayed the message. I looked down at my program and confirmed it was the Kindville Cougars who were next and told Rhonda, who nodded, so I assumed she heard me.
There was a brief lull in the music and I relished the respite until the announcer came on to introduce the next team. But when the spotlight lit up the doorway they were to come through, nothing happened.
“Let’s welcome the Kindville Cougars,” the announcer said again—and nothing.
“I wonder what’s happening,” Rhonda said.
“Probably got their time wrong or something. If they take too long, they’ll go to the next team and slip them in somewhere else.” It wasn’t an unusual occurrence to be late. Herding teenage cheerleaders was much like herding cats. Not an easy prospect.
Rhonda nodded, but then ten more minutes went by, and the announcer came back over the loudspeaker. “Sorry for the delay, folks. Now let me introduce the Kindville Cougars.”
I was nervous, as Ashley’s team was second to the Kindville Cougars in overall standings going into today. They were always the team to beat, and by the looks of the routine I was watching, they would again be the team to beat today. Their tumbling was flawless and the height of the basket toss was amazing.
Ohhh, a collective gasp went through the crowd as the final pyramid fell. Once all the girls got up and I saw no one had been hurt, I could allow myself to be happy for the fall and the edge it would give Ashley’s team. What could I say? Competitive cheer was cutthroat. As I looked around, I saw the other moms felt the same by the slight smiles they wore, but we said nothing. Didn’t want to jinx our girls.
“Let’s welcome our next team, the Aces of Cherry City!” the announcer came back on.
As everyone clapped and cheered, I prepared myself for the pounding music again and dug two aspirin out of my purse. As much as I loved cheer, sitting for hours on end in the bleachers, listening to loud music and screaming fans took a toll.
“They’re coming out now,” Rhonda exclaimed, bringing my attention back to the stage as our team, the Aces of Cherry City, took the floor.
“I just hope Beth makes her standing back tuck,” Rhonda said, and I nodded, focused on willing Ashley to have a clean routine. She was coming off a sprained ankle and her tumbling had been a little shaky lately. Competitive cheerleading was a sport people gave little credit to. Heck, most wouldn’t even consider it a sport. What they didn’t realize was that cheerleaders got more concussions than the local high school football team, according to my friend Karen, who was a nurse at the local ER. Competitive cheer differed from school cheer. Ashley’s team didn’t cheer at football and basketball games but competed with a two-and-a-half-minute routine of tumbling and stunts. It was fun to watch. The girls were incredibly athletic and devoted hours and hours to training.
My worrying was needless and their routine was flawless. When they finished, I jumped up, screamed, and clapped with the rest of the cheer moms.
After the team left the stage, we all got up and walked out of the event room, and around to the hall where the team would come out of the locker room.
“You did an awesome job, honey!” I said to Ashley as soon as I saw her, and gave her a big hug.
“Thanks! Can I have some money? We’re going to go get some food before the awards. We’re starving.”
I dug some cash out of my purse and handed her a twenty, and she bounced away with her friends.
I turned to the mom group I was standing with. “I’m going to grab a coffee. Anyone want anything?”
I didn’t get any takers, so I headed over to the coffee cart, which thankfully didn’t have nearly as big a line as the hot pretzel and nacho stand where the kids were waiting.
I was third in line and was thumbing through Facebook on my phone when the conversation the ladies in front of me were having caught my interest.
“Yes! The team was here, but he never showed up. They warmed up without him, and a Kindville coach from another team stepped in for him since the teams can’t compete without a coach. I’m sure that’s why their pyramid fell. Those poor girls. Shame on that coach for not showing up.”
“Are you talking about the Kindville Cougars?” I asked, giving away my eavesdropping, but the ladies just smiled, so they hadn’t taken offense.
The lady with blond hair nodded.
“Maybe he got a flat tire or something,” the other woman said.
The blond lady shook her head. “Maybe, but no one has heard from him. At least that’s what our coach said. If he had a flat, surely he would have called someone to tell them or asked for a ride or something.”
The ladies walked up to order their drinks, cutting the conversation short, and I got my coffee right after them. Then I headed to the awards room, where I took my seat while they brought all the teams on stage.
“And now for our senior four division. Third place goes to the Centerville All Stars, second place the Columbus Wildcats, and first place goes to the Aces of Cherry City!”
The girls jumped up screaming, as did all the parents. While the gym focused on the girls doing their best, and of course I didn’t care if Ashley’s team won as long as they had fun, winning was a great feeling. I loved that my daughter had that feeling of accomplishment.
“We won, we won, Mom!” Ashley yelled, running down to where the parents were standing and stopping short right in front of me. She was showing me the medal around her neck while jumping up and down. I was so proud of her.
“Ice cream on the way home to celebrate?”
“Definitely! I need to grab my things from the warm-up room.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you up by the front door.”
“Okay. Be right back.”
Ashley bounded off to grab her stuff, and I walked in the opposite direction to the front doors. But what I saw when I looked up stopped me in my tracks. I could see the flashing lights of a police car through the plate-glass windows.
I walked up to the crowd that was gathering, looking out the window where the police were talking to some parents from the Kindville Cougars. I could tell because they had Kindville Cougar jackets on and were wearing the team colors.
“What’s going on?” I absently asked the person standing next to me.
“They found the coach of the Kindville Cougars on the side of the road a couple of miles away. He’s dead.”