Give Me a “D” by
(22 Stories)

Prompted By In the Band

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Beat-beat-beat that other team!

Sometimes the prize you seek is not the prize at all.

I wanted to do something outside of academics freshman year, something physical. My options were limited. Too short for basketball, not drawn to softball, and with no soccer offered, I took the default path to cheerleading. Never mind that I had no clue about what to do and when during a game. First in ten—then what? I reasoned I could always take cues from the other girls.

At that time “making it” onto the squad meant a lot. I set my sights on doing just that that spring. I lunged, yelled and practiced cartwheels on our front lawn in the weeks leading up to spring tryouts. It would all have been for nought, however, had I not been able to do The Jump. The Jump was a feat of flexibility. It required running and then leaping into the air with back arched, head and arms flung back, knees bent and toes hitting the back of the head in a near-perfect “O”. Mirabile dictu, as the Romans might say, it was a difficult move and I could do it.

Hit the line, hit the line, harder, harder!

That fall I loved it all: the games, the crowds, the crisp-apple fall days, the thumpa thumpa of the band. Strange, then, that my memories of that heady year are blurry— except for one.

Football had ended, hockey season was about to begin. Our school rented rink time from a nearby university. Players and cheerleaders had to be aboard the bus to the city by 5:00 a.m. sharp. I lived across town. How was I going to get there in time, and what would happen if I didn’t? I needed a ride.

All eyes in my family turned to my father. My snotty, self-centered little self was horrified. Dad? Are you kidding me? He was the biggest night owl sleeper-in’er of us all. Had he ever even seen five in the morning?

Dad nodded his head yes, he would do it. I was doomed.

Charlie Bennet, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can!

At 4:00 a.m. the New England winter sky is as black as a hockey puck, let me tell you. I had laid out my uniform the night before and had fallen into a troubled sleep. At four my alarm blasted me out of bed. I dressed in the darkness and crept downstairs. There was a clink! of spoon against china as I turned the corner. I stood, stunned, and stared..

Backlit in the kitchen was Dad, his hand shakily pouring a cup of coffee and a lit cigarette burning nearby. I took it all in, the fatigue in his face, his stooped posture. He was a fifty-four-year-old man in declining health, dressed in the sport coat he had been wearing the night before at dinner.

I realized with shock that my weary father had stayed up all night to be awake for me, to make sure he did not fall asleep and disappoint me.

There would be time enough later for shame and for guilt. Right then there were only Dad, myself and a warm melt of love such as I had never felt before.

I bet you thought this was going to be a story about cheerleading. Not entirely. I’ve brought you all the way here just to tell you, I have remembered this moment all of my life.


A short history of cheerleading

You may know that the first cheerleaders in America were college men. Cheerleading was imported from Great Britain in the late 1800s and practiced first at Princeton. Cheering had its own cachet.

A 1911 article in The Nation magazine asserted: “The reputation of having been a valiant cheerleader is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. It ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarterback.”

I wonder about that. Nevertheless, unlikely cheerleaders in history have included Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jimmy Stewart, Meryl Streep—and me.

Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Susan, I love everything about this story from your Featured photo, which shows us exactly what that perfect jump looks like, to your bold-faced cheering section heads (“Charlie Bennet, he’s our man”), to the description of the darkness of the New England winter “hockey puck” sky at 4am.

    I believe I am bit older than you, but I worshipped the cheerleaders in Junior High School. I could never be one (though I knew all the cheers), since I couldn’t do a cartwheel or round off; just couldn’t get my legs over my head. But I had all the enthusiasm and knew all the cheers. In high school, I went to all the games and cheered along for our lousy teams. In college (not a rah-rah school), we had no football or hockey, so I went to the basketball games, even briefly dated the star player.

    In your well-told story, your bring us around to your admiration for your father, who quietly shows his devotion for you. I love the way you describe that quiet moment, with your father backlit in the kitchen, how you never forgot it and “the warm melt of love”.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Wonderful storytelling again. I’m glad this was an opportunity to honor that memory of your dad—and your appreciation of what he did for you. It reminded me of things my dad did that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, but understood better on reflection and with the gift of years. May you continue to have those good memories.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Isn’t it an eternal truth, Khati, that we need time and perspective to fully appreciate our parents, our family, our friends and mentors. The difference for me was that it was a rare, immediate revelation, and I’m grateful for that.

  3. Lovely story Susan. Of course it’s about more than your cheerleading career, it’s about your father’s love. Our best stories always have that extra dimension!

    I too was a cheerleader. I cheered for NYU , we didn’t have a football team but did have a winning basketball team who made it all the way to playoffs at Madison Square Garden, great fun being on the floor of that grand venue!

  4. Suzy says:

    Susan, I love the way you write, especially when you break the 4th wall and talk to the reader. “I bet you thought this was going to be. . .,” “I’ve brought you all the way here just to tell you. . .” So different from anyone else on this site, and perfectly lovely.

    I do remember that when we were in college, the cheerleaders at the football games were guys who had lettered in other sports. When I went back for fall reunions and saw female cheerleaders, it seemed very odd, even though of course in high school they had been female (and I had not been one of them, because I couldn’t do a cartwheel).

  5. John Zussman says:

    I saw what you did there, leading us down the garden path of cheerleading and then slyly turning it into a poignant tribute to your father. Nice job. It gives us a sense of him that meer description could not.

    George W. Bush was a college cheerleader too, so there’s that.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    A lovely story with a sweet finish!

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