I angled up on my elbows from my beach towel, slack-jawed like Susan Sigler and Jackie Herold as we watched a jumble of high school jocks gambol through the surf. Their guffaws and your mamas grazed the sand toward us.
We knew their names—had sat in Algebra or Biology or American Lit across the aisle from them. They probably knew ours. But, intent on shoving and tripping each other, slam-dunking insults, they didn’t notice us. And we didn’t have the chutzpa to call out to them.
My swim team buddy, Diane Schneider, rose out of the surf behind the boys, a bedraggled mermaid, oblivious to the wave of testosterone that had just sloshed by.
I patted the sunbaked half of my towel for Diane to sit on while the chatter of greetings swelled around me. My gaze followed the boys. If we were cool girls, the guys’ radar would have guided them straight into our personal space.
The path to popularity could be paved by sleeping with those boys, according to my stepfather. Ralph meant well, but he sure would have made a lousy Catholic. No doubt, the jocks had a better understanding of first, second, third base and home than I did. I wanted to keep it that way. There had to be another way to capture cool that didn’t involve mortal sin.
A red Mustang convertible rolled between us and the water and we watched coaches Rick Webb and G.P. Doan drive by.
“There goes cool,” Jackie observed.
I scrunched my nose. “They’re ancient. They must be like twenty-five. Eww.”
Webb, brown as a Boston baked bean, and his cadre of young, hip, handsome single male teachers were almost iconic—fraternizing up and down the Florida coast. At school, I swore I could smell the coconut scent of Hawaiian Tropic wafting from their skin when I passed them in the hall.
I played high and mighty that day, but a year later I felt flattered when one member of the fraternity said he wanted to become friends after graduation and another invited me to go home with him. I turned them down. Maybe they weren’t too old, but I was way too young.
I watched the coaches’ tail lights warm as they slowed to talk to the boys. Maybe I wasn’t the only one with my nose smashed up against the window of cool.
“I’m going out for cheerleading,” I thought aloud. Cheerleading keyed a girl into cool. Anybody knew that.
“What?” Jackie and Susan said at the same time.
I shrugged. “Tryouts are open. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to be a senior.”
Jackie, never speechless for long, blurted. “But you don’t know how to cheer.”
“We should all try out. We’re loud, right?”
Susan, still stymied, shook her head. “You’re crazy.”
I elbowed Diane. “Let’s do it.” I hoped my voice sounded more positive than pleading.
Diane, a recent transplant to New Smyrna Beach like I was, had already joined the volleyball, basketball, gymnastic, and swim teams and a smattering of clubs. She wrung the sea water out of her hair. “Sure, why not?”
I smirked at Jackie and Susan.
Terror and hope twisted inside. Did I really have the guts to go through with it?
How hard could it be?
Very, it turned out.
The next Saturday, Diane and I stood in my front yard, memorizing chants, jumps, and hand motions—the two most spastic people on the planet. Every time someone passed, I paused, not wanting to be pegged stupid.
We practiced after school every day that week, plugging past pathetic.
The day of tryouts, we filed into the New Smyrna Beach High School gym—with ninety-eight wannabes. I sweated cross-legged on the shiny wood floor watching each audition. The girls with cheer experience channeled confidence—something Diane and I couldn’t corral if we kept practicing for another month.
I was up next. I wanted to slam out the gym doors, but I didn’t relish the sound of my pride crashing and dying on the court behind me. Instead, I stood, faced the judges, and bounced on the balls of my feet. “Ready, o-kay!” Those two words slurped up all my bravado. Bereft, I bumbled through the rest of the cheer and barreled into balmy Florida afternoon.
When the results were scotch-taped to a breezeway post, Diane and I hung back. We waited for the gaggle of girls angling for a glance at the paper to go away. Finally, we ran our eyes down the list.
No Ann Fetterman.
No Diane Schneider.
That should have dampened our school spirit. But Diane and I and our motley crew of minimally talented loud mouths proved irrepressible. The next year we dreamed up RSLC, Rose Scrivano’s Loud Crowd. We drafted Rose—the cheeriest of the lunch ladies and my prom date’s mother—as sponsor, bought matching short-sleeved red sweatshirts somebody found on sale at K-Mart, and persuaded Jeannine Marek and her mother to sew on black and white felt letters.
The first football game of our senior year, we clumped together, a raucous splotch of red staining the stands. Our goal? To out-shout the cheerleaders.
Susan, who actually knew what a first down was, shouted at the cheerleaders, “First and ten. Do it again!”
Down on the field, Vicky Jones cupped her ear.
All of us joined Susan and yelled her cheer suggestion again.
Gretchen Johnson glanced over her shoulder to make sure we still had the ball, then launched the cheerleaders into, “First and ten, do it again. Come on Cudas, let’s win!”
During the second half, the Baracudas shutting out Eau Gallie, Sue Shelton started the girls into, “Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?”
Eau Gallie intercepted a pass, and RSLC belted, “Push back, way back!” The rest of the fans joined us and the cheerleaders, one by one, caved to our cheer.
Gleefully obnoxious for the rest of the ‘75-‘76 season, we screamed our team to a three-way tie in the Orangebelt Conference—losing only one game to Rockledge 7-8. The last game of the year we edged out our arch rivals, Titusville Astronaut 22-21, hiccoughing Astronaut quarterback Cris Collinsworth’s charge toward the Cincinnati Bengals.
We like to think our mouths made a difference.
We showed up at every basketball game, and even a couple of track meets.
Thanks to Susan, RSLC co-captain and an editor of the Smyrnan, we even snuck into the yearbook.
After the spring sports banquet when I failed to bag “Most Valuable” on the swim team, RSLC proclaimed me “Most Athletic” and presented me with a construction paper ribbon embellished with glitter I saved for posterity.
Decades later, Jackie—along with Stuart friends Amy Kuhns and Carolyn Rathkopf—said they always saw me as a cool girl. I wish they’d told me—and spared me the humiliation of cheer tryouts.
In my fifties I don’t think about cool, though on occasion, my daughter calls me a cool mom. My sons like me too—one of them is building a house next door. My husband tells me I’m all that—every day. I finally caught cool.