In my family, everyone is good at something, especially sports. There was a time, though, when I was the only one who wasn't active in a sport.
My family tried to get me to play some sport, but I just wasn't interested. Then, my mother noticed I had a distinct interest in dancing. I also had a lot of energy at the time. She thought cheerleading would be a sport I would really enjoy because it incorporated these two elements.
When I turned 7 years old, Mom signed me up for Little Mingoes cheerleading. At first, I didn't think cheerleading was my thing, and Mom had to drag me to practices.
At the same time that I joined Little Mingoes, my Aunt Kim was 10 years old and cheered for Juniata. As a young child, I looked up to her in every way possible.
During the years, Kim taught me all I know about cheerleading. On nights when she could, she helped me for hours to make sure my cheers were perfect and my motions were tight. Together, we worked on jumps until I had the technique perfectly.
Cheerleading gave me confidence in myself, to face challenges and not be scared to dance or to cheer in front of a huge crowd. I used to be so shy that I wasn't even able to talk to the girls on my squad. This changed through cheerleading.
Both Kim and I were on the competition squad for our teams. We would compete against each other, but it made us better at what we both love to do. Competing against other teams gave me that rush of excitement. When the judges read off the scores each time, I would hope they called my school's name for first place.
Kim and I continue to cheer as we grew older, but things aren't quite the same. What we always thought was a sport is now considered by many to be a club.
What were people thinking when they decided that we are just a club and nothing more? The hearts of cheerleaders at many different schools were broken when all their hard work lost its identity, despite our dedication to reach our potential and to compete on this level.
Recently, I began cheering for Indian Valley High School's varsity cheerleading squad. We practice three hours a night three times a week. We get injured sometimes, despite being cautious. In fact, different research results have shown that cheerleading injuries are on the rise, which could be due to the increased stunt level and sheer determination of cheerleaders.
Cheerleading is a sport that I love and always will love. When people discriminate against cheerleaders and don't take them seriously, I get upset.
I invite those who think cheerleading is just a club to come to a practice and see how long and hard we work. Perhaps then the people who discriminated will understand that cheerleaders are athletes and what they do is a sport.
Haley Lemay is an Indian Valley student reporter and columnist.