■ Alex Cass / Contributed
When someone mentions cheerleading, what do you think of? Do you imagine athletes? If you don’t, Tahquitz High School’s cheerleaders are looking to change your perception. Thanks to coaches Sarah and Michael, they have transformed the idea of cheerleading among students on the Tahquitz campus and are working on changing the minds of those who don’t view it as a sport.
The first hurdle the coaches needed to overcome was the negative stigma around male cheerleaders; enter in CJ Hawkins. CJ is now in his senior year, but can recall the process of joining the cheer team when he was a freshman. He remembers attending freshman orientation when he was in eighth grade. He said he went to each sports table and grabbed a packet because he wanted to try everything. When he was leaving the auditorium, a cheerleader came up to him and asked why he didn’t grab a packet on cheer. He said he wasn’t interested, but she said, “Come to a practice, if you don’t like it you can leave.”
He liked the idea of the challenge so he attended a practice. During the practice, Coach Sarah did a stunt with her brother Jason, where he held her over his head in one hand without any assistance. “That stunt exploded something within me, and I thought, ‘I want the skills, technique, and power’ that Jason showed,” said CJ.
CJ said being the first male cheerleader came with some challenges. Although he also played football, basketball, and volleyball for Tahquitz, he was still called derogatory names and his family did not approve of his decision to be a cheerleader. He said these comments would get to him, but would wait until football practice where he would show the people (often his teammates) calling him these names “what a cheerleader hits like.”
CJ was the driving force in recruiting the team’s male cheerleaders and changing the stigma associated with the sport. He would reach out to his friends and classmates and tell them how tough the sport actually was. He would bring multiple people to cheer practice and said not one of the people he brought ever discredited the sport again.
CJ and the team have made themselves known not only on the Tahquitz campus, but also throughout California. The team is currently undefeated and has won 17 consecutive competitions. CJ said the sport has opened many opportunities for him and it is hard to disagree with that. He has been accepted to the University of Alabama, University of Kentucky, Stephen F. Austin State University [Texas], and many others. He said he has received many cheerleading scholarships for these schools, and is thankful for the opportunities the sport has given him.
While he is still making up his mind, he has a few options. He has been invited to try out for the cheer team at the University of Kentucky, which is the top school in the nation for the sport. If he makes the team, he will attend Kentucky and major in biochemical engineering. If he doesn’t make the team, he will either go into the U.S. Navy for nuclear engineering or attend the University of Alabama for biochemical engineering.
“Never set easy goals for yourself. Just remember, there will always be someone better than you, but you have the potential to be great,” said CJ.