“People actually do think I’m gay, but that doesn’t really matter to me,” Whitaker said.
A year ago, Whitaker was at an open gym working on his martial arts skills when he saw cheerleading for the first time. Amazed at how they were throwing back hand springs and back flips, Whitaker was immediately interested. He started exploring the Internet for cheer videos and paying more attention to the kids that were at open gym with him. After seeing competitive cheerleaders at the open gym, he attended cheer competition of freshman Shelby Springett, a friend of Whitaker’s.
“I would be very interested [in competitive cheer] if it wasn’t so darn expensive,” Whitaker said.
Although East cheer is fairly pricey itself, around $700 for the year, Whitaker feels it’s more reasonable than competitive cheer. So, in January of this year, Whitaker decided he would try out for East cheer. He is the first male to try out since Matthew Pope, who graduated in 2008, but that didn’t bug Whitaker.
“My goal is to show people what cheer really is,” Whitaker said, “because the stereotype is that it’s just a guy who wants to be a girl.”
Whitaker wants to show that its more about him getting to do the flips and stunting and that he doesn’t actually want to be a girl. For three months, Whitaker worked on getting down standing flips and back hand springs. He wanted a leg up by participating in the tumbling aspect of tryouts.
“[Tumbling] is another added benefit and we are always looking for people who can tumble so we can add that in too,” Current cheer coach Kelly Chapman said.
Whitaker went through two days of cheer clinic, where he, along with the girls, learned the tryout dance and chant. They, then got one day off to prepare and rest until tryouts on Friday.
After tryouts, Whitaker went home and tried to avoid his phone so that no one could tell him before he saw the list. He tried to pass the time away by watching television and trying to sleep, refreshing the page every 15 minutes, waiting for eight o’clock.
“When I first saw my number, I didn’t believe it was my number so I ran all the way back upstairs to get my name tag to double check that it was my number,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker was surprised that he had made varsity because he hadn’t ever had any real dance experience. He had only been training since January, so he didn’t actually think he had a chance at making it. Having a male on the team will allow the team to do stunts requiring more strength.
“Generally the young men tend to be stronger so instead of it taking two girls to hold a girl up it may only take one male,” Chapman said.
Sophomore and varsity cheerleader Isabella Weindling agrees with Chapman and feels that having such a strong male will be very beneficial in stunting. Having Whitaker on the team will allow the girls to do harder stunts with less people.
“He is insanely strong,” Weindling said, “so that will help us a lot with stunting.”
Sophomore and fellow varsity member Lindsey Grimm agrees with Weindling and Chapman. Grimm also thinks it will impact the team dynamics.
“It should be interesting to see what we can do next year with having a guy on the team,” Grimm said.
As of now 21 people are on the varsity squad, with three left to tryout due to scheduling conflicts with tryouts. The team is relatively young this year, with only four returning varsity members.
“I’m really excited for the young girls because the younger they are the harder they will work to prove themselves,” returning varsity cheerleader Maggie Thomas said.
Next year, Chapman will not be coach, however. Pope has interviewed for the job, but no decisions have been made.* If Pope gets the job he wants to bring respect back to the sport. He wants to add in more stunting, and with a male on the team they can switch up the stunting some. Whitaker’s goal for next year is to bring respect back to the male cheerleader. He wants to get away from the stereotype that all male cheerleaders are gay.
For now, Whitaker is just happy to be on the team, but he hopes to learn higher level tricks. Whitaker wants to work on getting down challenging tricks for the upcoming year, such as a cupie – a trick where the male holds up the female with only one hand.
“I need to find a flier that’s brave enough,” Whitaker said, “Because, after all, I’m going to be throwing them up in the air.” He also would like to look into cheering in college. Although it’s a long stretch for now, Whitaker thinks it would be a good opportunity. “If [cheering in college] helps pay for the tuition, then I’m all for it,” Whitaker said.