I never got good at giving pep speeches. The best I could offer them was chocolate bars (lots of chocolate bars) and sympathetic remarks. I wanted to be able to roll out a blackboard, to chalk it up with X's and O's, draw wonderfully intricate patterns with fullbacks, halfbacks, forwards and wings executing masterful attacks. I wanted to be able to say in a gutsy voice, "O.K., kids, go with plan TKC and if you feel it falling through in the corner, Hillary, you pass to Diana and move on to K46 revised. Ingrid, you go for the Iron Claw." But all I could muster up would be—
"Hillary, try to pass a lot, O.K.?"
"Sure," Hillary would say and pat me on the back.
They were very tolerant of me. Every now and then one of them would take me aside and say something like, "Look, you've got to get the forward line thinking like a rubber band." Or, "Look, you're just not hard enough on her." That was always true. When a girl who had been playing terribly came off the field, my instinct was to console her, not to get mad at her.
It was a matter of the players inspiring me, not the other way around. The team had several wonderful players who had developed specialty shots—a lunge, a scoop, a drive. They came up against other schools whose rubber-band qualities were superior, but they managed to finish with a respectable .500 record, 5-5-1. They never looked very organized, but they had drive and courage. I was proud of them.
As the season progressed I began looking forward to games. I could figure out about half the penalty calls, and I even learned some appropriate words to yell. I would run up and down the sidelines screaming as I never had before, "Lunge!" "Block her off!" "Rush!" "Pressure, pressure, get aggressive, Greeeeen!" It was exhilarating. I got so carried away a couple of times that the referees asked the girls' athletic director to tell me to stop being disruptive or they would have to charge the team with a penalty for my behavior.
I was shocked the first time I was reprimanded. Here I was getting chastised for cheering, for being enthusiastic, for supporting my team. I who had been the No. 1 embarrassment to my high school cheerleaders. Here I was cheering, "Va va va veat, we're neat, we'll knock 'em off their feet—Va va va voon, real soon, we'll send 'em to the moon—Va va va vot, we're hot, we'll show 'em what we got—Va va va vad, we're bad, and we're really really mad! Yay Berkshire!"
I wasn't really worried, though; I knew I would still be an embarrassment to my high school's cheerleaders. After all, I was waving a field hockey stick instead of a pompon. My socks still didn't match. And I wasn't two feet off the ground arching back and beaming at a bunch of guys. I was down on my knees rooting for some girls who were working hard playing a difficult and strenuous sport. My friends in the band would have cheered, too.