Friday Night Lights: Our First Experience with Team Sports

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This is going to be a bloodbath. We are at our town’s local high school football field. It’s a Friday night, and we are there to witness the home opener for the Horsemen – a team so named for the town’s most infamous legend in a town named after the legend itself. We’re lousy with lore in Sleepy Hollow.

If you had asked me ten years ago if I pictured myself spending my Friday evening at a high school sports game, my husband chasing a toddler with a baby bag swung dutifully over his shoulder, I would’ve scoffed, rolled my heavily-lined eyes, and imagined a proper future in a city environment, somewhere that’s not green.

And yet, suburban life wasn’t in our vocabulary as kids from Yonkers and the Bronx who came up through the Westchester Catholic school system. Not that we didn’t necessarily want that, it was just a concept that seemed foreign and unattainable. But then, with a three-year-old girl and a boy on the way, we miraculously found a home in the town that spoke to our emo kid sensibilities.

Cut to two years later, and there we were, positioned on the sidelines, participating in a true-blue town event. My now five-year-old daughter had begged to become a cheerleader. While I suspect her fashion sense and the kicky pleated skirt ensemble play more of a role in that endeavor than any longing to be part of a team, they’re still reviewing the forensics on that theory.

As I wanted her to get involved, I set out to achieve this goal for her. This was no easy task. Being that she only entered the school system this fall, we had no flyer, poster, or even anecdotal evidence to show that there even was a youth cheer team. I was, however, aware that a peewee football league existed. So I started there and worked my way backward through a series of Facebook groups before finally discovering that there were kicky pleated skirt ensembles to be worn.

photo Joe Golden

I was directed to the peewee cheer coach, and even though the team had already begun practicing, she welcomed my daughter onto the team. The practice started the next day for my (hopefully as enthusiastic as she promised) kiddo. And immediately, this became a family project. We worked as a unit to get her to the practices and shifted things around to make room for the new schedule.

And for her part, my precious baby angel daughter sat on the floor. After a few half-hearted attempts to learn the cheers the patient older team members were trying to teach her, she would post up on the outskirts of the field and spin in circles or go full Ferdinand the Bull and admire the flora. Of course, this led to her being ill-prepared come game day, and being just shy of her fifth birthday, she froze.

By the time we found ourselves under the Friday night lights, we had already witnessed how our Lil Toni Basil would handle being part of the squad. Oh, Mickey, it was not fine. What a pity. She stood stock-still, pom poms hanging limply at her side. Now, I’m sure most of us have experienced stage fright. We’ve all had to warble out “Jingle Bell Rock” or a tragic version of a show tune at some school assembly. So, I’m sure we can all resurrect what that feels like, being panic-stricken and unable to perform.

Being the parents WATCHING that stage fright. I’d liken the emotion to wanting to crawl out of your skin. Wanting to have your skeleton climb out, leave your skin behind, and hope that your bones are discreet enough so that no one will notice them working your daughter’s arms and legs like a macabre puppeteer.

I watched through my fingers. I performed the moves from the bleachers, mouthing the words like any stage mom worth her salt.

For his part, my husband beat feet and grabbed the baby, and paced the sidelines, desperate to cheer her on from a closer perspective. We felt like we had thrown her, quite literally, to the wolves. (No, seriously, the team’s name is the Wolfpack). And so – a week after the disastrous first pee wee game, the team was invited to perform at halftime at the high school’s home opener. 

We arrived with my daughter dressed in her skirt and white t-shirt, a bright red bow affixed to her pony as instructed. We tossed her a sleeveless, standard-issue, red top, “Wolfpack” emblazoned across the front as expected. Right there on the sidelines, and she put it on, invoking a noticeable change.

I don’t know, maybe it was magic! With all the spooky shenanigans, witchcraft wasn’t out of the question. I think the magic was this. She was expected to sit with her team, so I walked her to their spot on the bleachers. The girls on the team range from kindergarten to about sixth grade. My kid had joined late, been a pain learning her moves, and even flat out refused. Yet when the girls saw my daughter, they called her name, asked her to sit next to them, and fussed with her hair excitedly. Her coach took a moment to encourage her despite having 60 (60!) girls on the team. And then it came time for the big show.

As the groups lined up for halftime, my husband and I assumed the position with jaws set, nails being bit, and baby clutched football-like to fit the theme. The only addition was the floppy stuffed Princess Merida doll I waved like a plush pompom. “BE BRAVE!” I mouthed at my daughter. I mean – it worked.

photo Joe Golden

She made it out there with her squad. She ran to her spot and put her hands on her hips – more than she was willing to do up until that point. “Even if she stands like that the whole time, it’s still better than the flaccid pom pom stance she’d been taking!” I thought. And then she did the whole freakin’ routine as my skeleton DID leave my skin, rocketing out of our orbit with glee. It returned just in time for her to come off the field to my over-the-top reverie. On our way out, her coach stopped us, hugged her, and told her she saw how well she did.

The season went on after that, and she did just fine. The team was great, and the coach was responsive to all my inane emails. It took over our fall, but it was a worthy cause. I went full cheer-mom and made cake pop after cake pop for bake sales, I sent out weekly text message newsletters to our family telling them what was on the cheer docket for the week, and I even scored my own hoodie with her name emblazoned across the back.

Friday night lights had not been a bloodbath after all. Or maybe it had. I’m sorry, Horsemen, I honestly don’t remember if you won, lost, or who you even played that night. But I thank you for sharing a little spooky spirit with us.

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Christina Halpin is a Mama of two rabble rousers, based out of Sleepy Hollow. Raised in Yonkers, Christina received her Masters in Media at The New School & completed her undergrad at Manhattanville College (where she was voted part of the "Loudest DJ" team on WMVL radio two years running.) A fan of discovering local eateries, home cooking, and somewhat misguided home improvement projects, she works full-time in Ecommerce for Fullbeauty.com, and has previously blogged for LoHud Food. She enjoys oversharing on the internet and listening to way more true crime podcasts than is probably reasonable. Also, with as much black as she wears (and the fact that she is a self-admitted a retired emo kid,) the irony of making her home in Westchester's Halloween Town is not lost on her. Catch her on Instagram & Twitter @teenstered .

2 COMMENTS

  1. My daughter is a cheerleader from Ossining (FYI your rivals) and we just finished up her 1st year of cheer as a Kindergartener too. So see you around next Fall.

    I really enjoyed your story, and I hope you will continue to share your journey with us.

    I also have an older son who plays many sports, so cheer last fall wasn’t our first experience. But your piece took me back to when my son was little and we just started out and I was NOT into sports at the time. I was a proud mama.

    • Thanks for your sweet words, Leah! Means a lot to hear it took you back, even if you are our rivals! I am LOVING that there are great programs & such involved families in our neck of the woods. Catch you on the sidelines!

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