I know this much is true: I belong on the sidelines.
Most of my childhood (read: life) has been marked by failed forays into the world of athletics.
In gymnastics class, at age four, my instructor was so frustrated by my inability to execute a cartwheel that she invented a new move for me alone: the “Kart Kick.” Kart Kicks are as pathetic as they sound and involve placing your hands on the ground and feebly flailing your legs in the air briefly before collapsing onto the mat. I mistook her special attention as being indicative of my pure gymnastic talent. The look on my mom’s face the first time I showed her my signature move quickly told me otherwise.
The first time I ever put on roller skates, I knocked out my two front teeth after my mouth broke my fall on the wooden floor of the skate rink. Again, my mother sported a horrified look when she arrived at the birthday party to pick up a kid with a mouthful of pink gauze, mumbling excitedly about the thrill of playing a game called “crack-the-whip.”
Such minor setbacks didn’t faze me, however, and I went on to try just about everything offered to me: cheerleading (laughable), volleyball (I had to give up when I learned I would need to learn how to serve the ball overhand), ice-skating, tennis and basketball. I showed no real promise in any of those sports, but I loved the experience of being on a team. So, I looked for opportunities to contribute in my own way.
During basketball season in fourth grade, for instance, I spent a great deal of time on the bench. My coach knew that putting me in the game would mean watching me shuffle back and forth on the court and become downright alarmed if anyone tried to pass me the ball. But I was perfectly content to sit and watch the athletic talents of my teammates. I cheered loudly for them on the sidelines, calling out to each of them by name, so excited when they looked over to the bench appreciatively. I started honing my cheering skills and pretty soon I had written a lengthy song to perform before all of our games. It began with, “I’ve got a team that’s hotter than hot,” before proceeding through personalized verses for each of my teammates.
I was so proud of my achievement because I felt like I was contributing something of unique value to the team. My teammates loved the personal recognition – and the fact that the other teams in the league didn’t offer anything nearly as elaborate – so they began suggesting new lyrics for me to incorporate as the season progressed. When Erica made the game-winning shot, for example, it was immortalized in my ditty. I carefully transcribed my lyrics onto paper so that, if I couldn’t come to a game, the cheer could go on without me. I fear that the team parents could have recited it by the end of the season.
Needless to say, my career as a basketball player was short-lived. I look back on my cheer-song as just another instance of that special variety of awkward hilarity that I was prone to as a kid. I have resigned myself to the sidelines of sporting events. In college I’ve attended my fair share of basketball games, but, alas, I know that the players can’t hear me as I shout their names from the sidelines.
This past weekend I volunteered for the Run for Rigby 5K. I was stationed with a friend along the course, and we were instructed to keep runners on the right path and cheer them on as enthusiastically as possible. We enlisted the help of some portable speakers and sidewalk chalk and waited anxiously to spot the group of runners rounding the corner to greet us. We danced along wildly to hits from the ’80s as they ran by and yelled out all the encouraging things we could imagine. (I refrained from rhyming). I found myself feeling just like I did as a 9-year-old – excited to be a part of something and to be cheering on my peers.
I was close enough to the course to call out to those I knew by name. The runners waved, smiled or laughed at our absurdity, and it dawned on me that maybe my utter lack of athletic skill is tempered by my sincere enthusiasm. However lame it may be, my contribution is my cheering. I am destined to be on the sidelines – but that is more than fine by me. Because I’ve got a team that’s hotter than hot.
Margaret Delaney is a sophomore in the College. She can be reached at [email protected] I Know This Much Is True appears every other Tuesday.