Even though I told my grandmother I would never dance on stage, they somehow talked me into it. The costumes were itchy which I did not like. I had to wear tights, which I really did not like. My mother had to put make-up on me, which I really disliked even more. After I was all dressed and fixed up, I liked the performing as long as I could pull that itchy costume off as soon as I was finished.
Most of my weekends were spent at dance competitions. My go-to line with my friends was, “I can’t. I have dance.” It was a wonderful experience, though. my instructors, Mrs. Nadine, Mrs. Jackie and later Mrs. Debbie, were my surrogate moms. The girls on my teams were my sisters. I didn’t just learn dance, I learned that sometimes you win and a lot of times you lose. I also learned there is always someone better than you and to be humble and work hard.
In spite of the dancing, anyone who knows me knows that I am a softball playing, football tossing, son-my-dad-never-had kind of girl. I wore my hair in a ponytail every day and only started wearing makeup when I turned sixteen. No one ever thought I would try out for the Pom Squad at Mississippi State. I have always been a nervous kid who was too afraid of rejection to put myself “out there.” My sister was on the squad for 4 years and loved it. She, my dance teachers and my mom encouraged me to try. So, after a lot of contemplation and prayer, I finally decided to try out. After all, I had prepared for this my whole life.
On a weekend in April of my senior year in high school, I showed up with about fifty other girls who were all the star dancers of their home studios or high school teams to try for a spot on the team. Each girl seemed to be prettier than the next, all wearing their best sequined and shiny dance outfits. After several rounds of cuts and evaluations based on dance ability as well as looks, the new team was announced. The emotions that I felt when I saw my name on that last little sheet of paper is something I can’t explain. I was going to get to dance on the sidelines of football and basketball games just like my sister had before me. I’ll tell you, it was so thrilling to get that first uniform to take home to prove that I was selected as one of the chosen few.
Everyone sees the MSU Pom Squad on the sideline at football games or performing at basketball games. It looks fun and the girls are so pretty, but I want to tell you that more work than you can imagine goes into those few minutes that are shared with the fans. We had practices over the summer. We spent a week at camp at Alabama where we competed against other squads. I missed the whole freshman dorm move-in experience (not a bad thing) since the spirit squads all moved into the dorms a week early for practice. We learned sideline cheers and dances to band music. We practiced at the stadium to learn where to stand so we wouldn’t get run over by the players.
After school started, we practiced every evening learning and polishing our cheers and learning dances to perform with the band. We cheered at pep rallies, performed at Bulldog Bash and Pumpkin-Palooza, and cheered at women’s and men’s basketball games. We led kid clinics and mingled with fans in the Junction. We got spray tans and nursed blisters and other injuries. We tried to keep our roommates from hating us when our alarms went off for early morning workouts and when our dance shoes started to smell like a critter dying in the walls. Plus, we still had to do the whole school thing.
One of the hardest things we had to do was endure the criticism from people, fans and “not-fans” of State. The girls all put in so much work for probably the lowest paying gig around (scholarships top out at around $1000 for seniors). So, to read comments about what we were wearing or how we looked really hurt. I know it’s hard to understand, but our spirit squads don’t have unlimited funds. Making do with what we had was part of the deal and it’s really hot on the field! Trying to look pretty and keep the spirit with your hair sticking to you and sweat pouring down your face isn’t easy, I assure you. I know I saw a few less-than-fresh fans at the last two games after spending some hot hours in the Junction. Also, it hurt our feelings when football players would ask us, “Why don’t you dance at the football games?” Huh? We were the ones in the sparkly tops that you pushed out of your way on the sidelines.
There are some lessons I learned from being on the MSU Pom Squad. Rain and sweat really can mess up a spray tan. It seems like sweat just takes it off very unevenly, but after the rain during the 2014 Auburn game, I looked like an orange-ish zebra. It took over a week for the tan to fade. The white top I was wearing was also never the same which brings up another lesson learned; it’s best not to wear white in the rain. I learned that the grass on the side lines is slippery underneath jazz shoes. I believe my mom has my fall on tape to prove it when I gracefully kicked during the Fight Song and landed square on my bum (but, no, that isn’t me falling in the video tweeted by Gregg Ellis). I learned the words to the Alma Mater. I can say that standing in the end zone, singing “Maroon and White” with the players and other spirt squad members was one of my favorite Pom Squad memories. Win or Lose, it always gave me chills.
I am grateful for my experiences on the MSU Pom Squad. I made some great friends that I will have my entire life. It helped me learn to step outside my comfort zone. It taught me to fix my hair and led to my love of lipstick (who knew). And, nothing can compete with cheering for the Number One Team in the Nation! The next time you see a member of the Pom Squad (or any of the spirit squads), know that he or she is working hard to support the university you love. Maybe even tell him or her that you appreciate all the effort. After all, only a few lucky ones wake up “game day ready.”