Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Cheer History, Installment 1: 1995-1998

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Halyn Erickson. I did competitive cheerleading for 13 years. I won 73 national titles, multiple grand champion awards, I was the overall champion for individuals when I was 12, captain on many teams, the first Hall of Famer at Austin Cheer Factory and I was the flyer on the first stunt team to compete a kick double at a Cheer Power competition. I play a character named Kennedy who is very intense and harsh. She’s basically who I was as a cheerleader times 10. My other role in the show is helping these lovely ladies jump like cheerleaders, dance like cheerleaders and speak like them too. I have a long, strange journey to share, and I’m happy to do so. I’ll be doing in in installments, and this is the first one. Here’s my story.

5, 6, 7, 8

It all started when I was about 4, around 1995. My mom, Rhonda, was asked to help out on the Leander Cedar Park cheer team. She was a world class soccer player, and they thought she was a good fit as she was a woman athlete. She took it up as she thought it might be a good influence on me. I destroyed her dreams of ever becoming a soccer player, as I danced on the field most of the time and punched a kid once, then took the ball off the field with my hands. She had literally no idea what she was doing at first. She scouted the talent, watched videos (she would order vhs tapes), and learned the rules. She pushed the girls as hard as she could, and taught them everything she knew. I would go to the games and practices, and to this day I still remember some of the routines. They usually featured a heavy disco influence, as my mom LOVES disco. 

My parents always knew I was a performer. I wasn’t particularly funny, or emotional- I just loved to dance, sing, and do tricks. I was never shy if I was performing, I was only shy in real life. My mom asked me over and over if I wanted to do cheerleading and I always said no. I had a knack for remembering dances, and I started to stretch the way my mom taught the girls, just for fun. Still, for a long time I refused.

So my mom also loves sports, mostly football. She used to listen to this radio show that just talked about sports all the time, which I found horribly boring. One day, when I was about 7, she called in and answered a trivia question, winning her “audience” passes on the set of Varsity Blues. I think we went to the Georgetown stadium, actually. I was terribly bored. My mom had friends there, and I remember playing on a friend’s gameboy because I was so bored. We were in the stands, and when people told us to we had to cheer wildly. Mostly it was a lot of standing around.

And then I saw them- they threw girls in the air, and the people cheered.  The girls smiled and waved. The mascot danced. People laughed. People pointed. They took pictures. The girls jumped. The guys held the girls while the girls held their legs over their heads. I turned to my mom and said, “I want to do that.” She told me to run down and ask if I could. I shot down the bleachers and said, “Can I go up?” The guys pulled me over, and the audience clapped. The boys put me up in a partner stunt, and the guy under me told me to do “longhorn hands”, the girls below showed me what to do and I did. The crowed roared and the girls smiled at me. I was twiggy, scrawny, probably had a messy blonde ponytail and ugly clothes-but I was in the air and so who cared? The guy holding me told me to smile, and the crowd laughed- I can’t imagine how terrified I looked.

This is my first cheer memory. It means so much to me. Whenever I think about it I cry. This was the first crowd I ever heard that cheered for me. This was my first time doing something scary, and loving it. I came down and the cheerleaders took to me right away. They thought I was so funny and they had a million questions. My mom was down at the bottom at this point, talking to one of the guys. The girls put the mascot head on me, and I’ll never forget that. We just laughed and they made me do stuff with my arms and legs. Finally, I ran back to the stands, and the boys lifted me up and over the railing. My mom told me on the ride home that someone named Jason told me to take classes. He told my mom I had a natural ability and to start my training now.

My mom enrolled me at a tumbling gym in Georgetown called something like “Flipz” or something, I can’t remember. But I spent hours there in a leotard and shorts, desperately trying to learn a back handspring. They would put me in a harness attached to the ceiling and I would try to do stuff. On the wall I remember there were tons of hand-prints in red, green and blue with girl’s names on them. The gym was very loose, and fun- it was pretty much daycare with equipment.

My mom recorded a special that Discovery Channel did on cheerleading, that we watched for years and years to come. The competition was NCA, and it was the nationals. It featured Cheer Athletics, Top Gun Allstars, Gymtyme and World Cup. Here’s a link where you can watch what NCA feels like, and what I watched and idolized as a young girl: I watched this video so much that I ruined the tape. I wanted so badly to be like these girls, they were my idols.

It was around this time my mom started coaching in Georgetown, for the Georgetown Eagles. She was the head coach, along with a woman named Sonya, and another woman named Laura. For a short while we just did that team. We practiced outside of the Georgetown rec center, when there used to be a bit of field in the back. Bugs biting, the sun blazing, we worked hard to be the best. We went to competitions we weren’t competing at just to see what we wanted to be. We sat on trailers in local parades, had sleepovers, and I was so young that I can barely remember other stuff. I was only 8. I didn’t have any tumbling skills, I was just a great flyer. I was fearless. I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t cheer very loud, my jumps were okay though. I really wasn’t a good cheerleader in the beginning, it took a while to overcome a lot of my natural awkwardness. 

Quick sneak peek about my life- I had a full by 11. (this is a full: A full is an elite level tumbling pass, so I came really far in 3 years. But that all comes later!

Then there was the split. There was a dispute over a few girls having to miss practice for family issues. One girl’s father was out of jail, and visiting for a little while so a girl wanted to go see her father in another state. Another girl’s grandmother was dying, and she wanted to go spend time with her before she passed away. The other coaches thought it unfair to the girls who were staying and practicing, and thought they should be kicked off. My mom refused, and the coaches went outside of the gym we had rented out, and fought extremely hard and loud. They came back in, practiced ended, and so Cheer Authority was born- my mom’s legendary rec cheer team.
I am second in from the right on the second row, bending over holding our knees. I have long blond hair, and my face is so washed it out from being so white. This was my mom’s cheer team, and this the end of the first bit of my story.

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