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Amelia Zatik Sawyer Headshot

From Riot Grrrl to Cheer Mom

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For the past two years, I have been a cheer mom. People who know me are shocked because if you looked at me from the outside I am the opposite of what reality TV shows depict as cheer moms. I am a Gen X'er who snuck out of my house in junior high to attend the first Lollapalooza. I wore combat boots with my Catholic school uniform, and when I make playlists these days, they still include L7, The Breeder, Pavement and Hole. I am a walking creature of the '90s. I have tattoos, I wear red lipstick, still rock Doc Martens and I would never be caught dead in sweat clothes decorated in bling proclaiming "cheer Mom."

When I post photos on Instagram of my amazing daughter cheering, I am usually meet with comments like "wow, you don't seem like a cheer mom" or "I could never imagine you letting your daughter do something like cheer." In person, people are surprised and somewhat judgmental about my daughter being a cheerleader and I often find myself going off on a tangent about how we got introduced to the wonderful (yes, wonderful) world of cheer.

Two years ago, my daughter Louisiana was taking gymnastics at a local gym and happened to walk past the cheerleaders practicing. "I want to do that mommy!" she proudly exclaimed as she pointed towards the girls being thrown very high into the air. I shrugged it off, as having a 5-year-old taught that young minds change very easily. Hers didn't and after a few more gymnastics classes, her desire turned impatient and after a long discussion with my husband, we decided to let our 5-year-old girl make up her own mind. She would have to choose one or the other: cheerleading or gymnastics.


She chose cheering. Today, as I watched her perfect her back walkover on stage at her last competition (after working so hard on it all year), I couldn't help but cry. It's indescribable watching your own child work hard for something they want and succeed. It is by far one of the best gifts of parenting. For our family, cheerleading is something that gives our daughter pride, strength and confidence in herself -- things my days as a riot grrrl taught me as well. I never thought I would find that in cheerleading for her, yet her I am.

When she began cheerleading, I honestly wasn't thrilled. I had a skewed view of the sport, the girls and the moms. I had seen awful reality TV shows depicting the worst of the worst, I read about cheer moms fighting. Hell, I watched "Bring It On" more than I'd like to admit. For the first competition she had, we drove an hour away and when we arrived, my husband and I were shocked. There were hundreds of cheerleaders applying makeup in hallways, loud (and bad) techno music blaring and parents chasing their kids all around. We could hardly move and to say we were overwhelmed is an understatement. My husband and I rolled our eyes as we went to find the team and our seats. Louisiana went off with her teammates and we began to watch. As the teams performed, we both had to admit that what we were seeing were super-talented girls. As one team left, the announcer came on the loudspeaker "Get UP GET UP outta your seats for the Excite Special Needs Team!!!" The entire stadium erupted with cheer as the girls and boys with special needs took to the floor. My judgements of cheerleading went out the window that moment. Watching the crowd cheer and watching the kids on stage smile from ear to ear gave me second thought about what cheerleading actually meant. I went from Riot Grrrl to Cheer Mom in that moment.


Since that first competition, I have learned that cheerleaders aren't the bad attitude, self-obsessed girlsthat they are depicted as in films and TV. I am sure there are some bad eggs, but most every girl and boy I have met are kind kids who care about their team, their sport and others. Something most of us can be proud to get behind, even us retired Riot Grrrls.