Author’s Note: This story takes place in roughly the same “world” as several other ones on this blog. They’re not entirely related (that is, the same characters don’t necessarily appear in every story), but in my head, they all live in the same general location. Just thought you’d like to know.
It all started with a bet.
Tyler could never remember later whose idea it really was. It might have been Matty’s because he’d had a ginormous crush on Justine starting in fourth grade. Or it might have been Justine’s; she liked to see Tyler and Matty squirm. It might even have been Tyler’s—a stupid reaction to stupid Matty’s stupid teasing.
It didn’t really matter anyway.
The only important thing was that six days into the school year, Tyler was sitting in the top row of the bleachers in the Old Gym (which hadn’t been “old” since 1962) waiting his turn to try out for the seventh grade cheerleading squad. Matty was on his right and Justine was on his left. Somehow, it didn’t make him feel any better.
If he went through with it, he got eight dollars and Matty’s copy of Super Mario Zombies, and Justine would find out if Carly Dunbar liked him, liked him. If he didn’t, he had to make copies of his social studies notes for a week—for both Matty and Justine, neither of whom appreciated Mr. Connolly’s habit of outlining the whole text book.
Tyler sighed. There was nothing for it. He had no intention of losing this bet; he cared far less about the winnings than his pride. Anyway, it wasn’t as though he couldn’t do it. Tyler was pretty sure he stood a better chance than half the girls. He’d taken several years of gymnastics until his parents decided it was too expensive. At that point, he switched to hip-hop. That was considered respectable, though Tyler always secretly wished he’d been allowed to take some of the other dance classes. That was the fun part about being a preacher’s kid in a not-so-big town; there was pressure on his dad to make sure he grew up right. There was no way he was going to tell his father that he’d tried out for cheerleading—especially if he didn’t make it.
After suffering through several out-of-sync routines, the coach finally called Tyler’s name. There were a lot of poorly-concealed snickers. Even the coach looked like she thought Tyler wasn’t serious. He performed the skills she asked for and watched her make checks on her clipboard, her eyebrows slowly climbing her forehead. She dismissed him with an “I’ll let you know” and moved on to the next person.
“You so owe me,” Tyler said when they were out of the gym.
“Whatever.” Matty was scowling. “I didn’t think you’d actually do it. I was looking forward to sleeping through Connolly’s class.”
“You wish. Just think, now you can play Super Mario Zombies at my house.”
Two weeks later, Tyler was standing in Coach Pepper’s office, fiddling with his backpack while she talked.
“…just don’t see how it’s possible,” she was saying. “I mean, we don’t have a uniform for you or anything. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Tyler, but this isn’t going to work out. I’m sorry.”
Wait just a minute. Was Coach Pepper really saying Tyler couldn’t be on the squad because he was a boy? “Coach, that’s not fair! It’s discrimination.”
She glared at him. “Boys can’t have everything. Some things just naturally belong to the girls.”
He let his mouth hang open for ten seconds before he turned and marched out. No way was he going to stand for this. People staged protests all the time, right? Why not for keeping boys off the cheer squad? Time to take some action.
Without telling his parents.
That turned out to be easier said than done. By the time Tyler had organized a protest at the first soccer home game, put on one of the mini-skirt uniforms, passed out fliers at every lunch period (earning two detentions for cutting class), and called the local paper, his parents were well and truly informed.
Tyler was unprepared for the media circus that ensued. Apparently, the tiny town of Morton Ponds hadn’t seen this much excitement since the high school baseball team won the state championship back in the early eighties. Everyone took sides, including most of the teachers—and Tyler’s own family.
It didn’t help that every single one of them had an opinion. Helen thought he was attention-seeking. Charlotte said she was proud of him for sticking The Patriarchy in the eye, whatever that meant. His parents said they would support him, but it didn’t sound entirely sincere. Only Colby said he was staying out of it.
When all was said and done, Coach Pepper was forced to accept boys on the cheer squad, provided they could demonstrate the skill level she expected. There was a big press conference, and Tyler had to make a speech about how wrong it was to keep kids from doing what they wanted just because they were the “wrong” gender. He didn’t know how to answer the question about whether girls should play football; Morton Ponds didn’t even have a football team.
Afterward, Colby took Tyler out for ice cream. Colby was pretty cool, for a college guy. They sat outside the Dairy Queen eating Dilly Bars and not actually talking. That was okay with Tyler; he didn’t have anything else to say. Eventually, they tossed their sticks and got back in Colby’s car.
“Well, at least you made the team,” Colby finally said.
Colby glanced at Tyler. “What?”
“I didn’t actually want to be a cheerleader. I just wanted Matty’s copy of Super Mario Zombies.”
For six heartbeats, Colby said nothing. Then he roared with laughter, buckled his seat belt, and drove them both home.
For those of you heading to SS in a couple of weeks (you know who you are), I’m auctioning a collection of stories that includes Betting on It and several others from this blog as well as a few new ones.