How Cheer Has Changed Since I Was in High School

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Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (OK, so it was really only the late 1960s), I was on my high-school pom team in Chicago (Go, Vikings).When someone asks me how things would be different today, here’s what I imagine.

My Team Would Be Known by a Different Name

I think these days schools usually call their teams something a little more modern than Pompon Girls. We would probably be known as Song Leaders, Dancers, or Pom Team.

My Uniform Would Be Much Nicer

Believe it or not, we had to make our own uniforms! I can still remember how excited I was buying the Simplicity pattern and red Georgia Wool at Sears. I didn’t sew at the time, so my friend Karen sewed my uniform for me. She did a wonderful job–I hope she still has the autograph hound that I gave her as a thank-you! These days there are hundreds of beautiful uniform styles, most with custom-designed lettering, trimmed with shiny metallic braid. Modern uniforms are made with a wide variety of materials that are more breathable and flexible, and a lot easier to clean. It might have been a little shorter, but not much–after all, my generation invented the mini-skirt!

My Shoes Would Be More Comfortable

Back then we wore plain white gym shoes, AKA sneakers. A few times our captain actually wore saddle shoes! You can imagine how dirty our shoes got on a muddy football field and how much our feet hurt at the end of a basketball game! Thankfully, cheer and dance shoes are now made out of lightweight, durable material and scientifically designed for performance and support.

My Poms Would Sparkle

We had one red and one white pom made out of thin crepe paper strands that were about 12″ long. They were huge and fluffy and looked great–for about 3 months. After that, so many strands had fallen out that they looked thin and worn out, and the white pom yellowed with age. These days poms come in a wide variety of strand lengths and widths and are made from shiny plastic wet-look, sparkly metallic, or awesome holographic material that can last for years with the right care.

Music Would Be a Mix – and Digital

Each of our dances–usually a new one for each game–was performed to a 45 RPM record. We used a wildly diverse assortment of songs, ranging from the traditional Beach Boys’ Be True to Your School  to psychedelic anthems like Iron Butterfly’s Inagaddadavida. Now music is a fast-paced combination of several current songs usually played on a digital player or cell phone. Back then the only people who had wireless communicators were the characters on Star Trek! Modern mixes also include exciting sound effects such as custom voice overs, whip cracks, whistles, and explosions.

I Would Probably Go to Camp and Competition

I think our two cheer co-captains were the first people in our school’s history to go to cheer camp, while the rest of us took the summer off. In fact, we didn’t even know competitions existed! While there are still some school teams that don’t compete, Illinois now has an annual official state competition. It’s a great feeling to represent your school at competitions!

Stunts Would Be More Difficult

Then, as now, our pom team didn’t stunt. But our cheerleaders did perform one stunt–an old-fashioned three-tiered pyramid with everyone on their hands and knees–the kind you see in old 1940s college movies! These days even most novice cheer teams perform difficult, complex pyramids, partner stunts, and tosses with heel stretches, arabesques, scorpions, cradles, twists, and kicks.

I Would Try Out Every Year

We had one team, and it was for Seniors only. (Although my team did perform in the school talent show after tryouts when we were Juniors–complete with homemade costumes and poms we made out of shredded newspaper!) Many schools now have multiple teams–Freshmen or Frosh, Junior Varsity, and Varsity. I would try out every year, because it’s so much fun!

I Would Live More in the Moment

It’s hard to absorb everything while it’s happening, but as I look back at my old pictures and yearbook, I wish I’d taken more time to record events and appreciate all the fun as it happened. I certainly would have taken a lot more pictures. So my advice is to take time to enjoy and record all of the fun times. Of course, these days with digital cameras and no film to develop, it’s a lot easier!

Pom

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Marge Packman

Marge was a member of her high school pom team and has coached youth and school cheer for over 17 years. She has a BA in English from Northern Illinois University (Go, Huskies!). After graduation she joined the Peace Corps, met her husband, and moved to The OC. After cheer practice, you can find her watching football with her son or perusing the scrapbooking aisles with her daughter.

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