Have you ever heard the phrase, “addition by subtraction?” It commonly refers to a situation where something of value is lost, but a positive result somehow comes from it. In sports, this can happen when a super star is removed from the team for any number of reasons and the role players step up to fill the void and the team actually performs better than they did with the super star.
Most of us have plenty of addition by subtraction moments in life. The end of any relationship can usually qualify. Losing a job that gets us motivated to go back to school or just find a better situation is another common one. However, this being a cheerleading blog, and also this being tryout season, I wanted to write about the addition by subtraction one experiences by getting cut from the team.
When I was cheering, we had JV tryouts in the fall and Varsity tryouts in the spring. The JV tryout was for the incoming cheerleaders (Freshmen did NOT cheer varsity back then) and for any returning cheerleaders who did not make the varsity team from the previous year. If you made the team, you cheered all year. Sometimes you would get pulled up to varsity. Then in the spring, everyone from both teams that wanted to would try out for the Varsity team. With this system, you generally would tryout twice in the same year (once for JV and once for Varsity) until you became a Varsity cheerleader.
As for me, I did not try out for Varsity after my first year. There were a lot of guys coming back from the team, and they had just won the Division IA coed championship, so I figured there were not any open spots. I came back and spent a second year on JV. I had a really good year. I received an “Outstanding JV Cheerleader” award at the banquet. So when Varsity tryouts came around, with a lot of guys graduating from the previous team, I FULLY expected to take my rightful place as a Varsity cheerleader. Boy was I wrong! For starters, we had a couple of guys transfer in from other schools. Even with that, I thought I was pretty safe making the team. But then disaster struck. I choked. I think I dropped pretty much every stunt beyond an extension that I attempted. It was bewildering. I could roll out of bed and hit these stunts, but for some crazy reason, I was dropping them all over the mat. Needless to say, my name was not called out for the Varsity roster.
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that in my 21-year-old mind my world was coming to an end. OK, I am very embarrassed to admit that, but it is what it is. My priorities were skewed. Regardless, one before tryouts, I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to be spending 20 hours a week for the next 12 months cheering. After tryouts, I had no idea what I was going to be doing. So after taking a couple of days to wallow in self-pity, I started figuring out my options. First, I met with the advisor of the cheerleading program. Maybe I could talk my way on as an alternate or something. He graciously met with me and we small talked for a bit. Then I got down to business and asked him, “What do I need to do to get pulled up to Varsity this coming season?” I will always remember this. He told me he appreciated my contributions to the program as a JV cheerleader, but that if I wanted to be a Varsity cheerleader, I should transfer to another school. Ouch. I felt like my partner had just kicked her heels back during a toss (like I got the “wind” knocked out of me).
It was common knowledge that nobody came back to JV for a 3rd year. The program only wanted people on JV with a chance to move up to Varsity, so after 2 shots, you were not going to get a third. I was not about to transfer just to cheer. I actually was interested in getting my degree (Mom and Dad, I admit it was not my TOP priority, but it was on the list). So it looked like I had no option other than to accept that my cheerleading career had finished. The smart thing to do would be to move on and spend the extra time studying and working and just being a college student. I, however, decided NOT to do the smart thing.
I spent the summer teaching tumbling at 3 different gyms. Not only was that decent money but it gave me about an hour of floor time every day to practice. I called every girl I knew that stayed in town over the summer and stunted every day. I went on some crazy unhealthy diet and worked out a ton. By the end of the summer, I was without a doubt in the best shape of my life. I did all of that so that I could tryout again for JV, knowing full well that they were not going to take me for a 3rd year.
(I’m going to speed up the pace a little because this is getting way longer than I planned it to be.)
I tried out and had a very good tryout. I should, considering most everyone else trying out was a rookie. I knew I had the best performance of the candidates, but still fully expected to be cut. I was literally amazed when they called my name. No one had ever been given a 3rd year on JV, and as far as I know, no one has since. The happy ending soon got even better. Before JV practices even started, I was in the gym before Varsity practice tumbling on my own. It turns out that a guy on Varsity had sprained his ankle over the weekend. Since I was in the gym, they asked me to practice with them. After practice, they asked me to come back to the next practice. They kept asking and I kept coming. When they passed out Varsity uniforms, they gave me one too. By the end of the semester, they “officially” told me I was a Varsity cheerleader and put me on scholarship for the next semester. To complete the happy ending, I made the competition mat and we won another national title.
I try to keep things in perspective. I do not consider cheerleading the most important part of my life, so I do not consider getting cut that year to be a major event in that context. However, it was the best thing that ever happened to me as a cheerleader. If I hadn’t been cut, and if I hadn’t been faced with 2 impossible options (quitting cheerleading forever, or making the JV team a 3rd time) I never would have worked as hard as I did. So making a very long story short, getting cut hurt like crazy when it happened. It felt like my world had ended. But when all was said and done, that experience was the turning point of my cheerleading career. As a cheerleader, getting cut was the best thing that ever happened to me.