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Confessions of That Cheer Dad

I can’t think of a better way to start the new year than by introducing the dad who got our attention last year with his Confessions of a Cheer Dad post, to the tune of 70,000 plus impressions and corresponding “likes,” “loves,” “shares,” and “comments.”

Confessions (can be read in its entirety at the end of this blog) was posted in CheerMAD last month after I read it in a private national cheer Facebook group. It had been posted by Tanya Roesel, the owner of Midwest Cheer Elite, after the father of one of her athletes wrote and circulated it to other parents at the gym.

We've since learned that Andrew (AJ) Johnson is "that" cheer dad.

Confessions struck a nerve not just because it was a compelling, heart-felt written piece but also because, although there are many, Cheer Dads are statistically the less involved, less heard of, less present of the CheerMADs. For that reason, and more as you shall read further, AJ has agreed to represent the “D” in CheerMAD in his new monthly “Confessions of a Cheer Dad” column for CheerMAD.

Certifiably CheerMAD

AJ is the father of 13-year old Devyn, a member of MCE’s Sr. 2 Bangals who has been a competitive cheerleader for six years. He and his wife Amber are also the parents of 11-year old Aiden who plays soccer and basketball, coached by AJ. The soccer/basketball/cheer dad is an Operations Manager for US Bank.

It's a busy time of life for any cheer parent, but AJ is clear about his priorities.

“You either choose to be a supportive father or you sit on the sidelines,” AJ said. “For the child, it’s important to be involved with whatever they feel is important in their life. They put in the effort, the least I can do is show up.”

“I don’t think there is actually one thing that makes one a cheer’s all the intangibles that might not be out in the open,” he continued. “But sure I’m screaming my heart out and am not afraid to wear a sparkly shirt with her name on it, that’s what cheer dads do.”

If I may interject here, I find myself being a bit jealous for my own daughters who did not enjoy the kind of support from their dad that AJ speaks so casually about.

To put it into context, for 17-years of having two daughters in competitive cheer, their father attends one comp a year, the one held closest to our home. He shows up minutes before the start of the routine, stays in his chair for its duration, then goes to the side of the mat where he is met with squeals and hugs of appreciation by his daughters. And then leaves.

While extreme, I know there are more fathers like my daughters' than there are like AJ.

“I like to be there and support her in any capacity that I can, hauling bags or go get a Sprite somewhere in the city because the vendor brought only three cases and there are 900 athletes,” he laughed. “What’s important to me is her trip be as stress-free as possible.”

It turns out, Confessions of a Cheer Dad was written after a disappointing outcome for his daughter's team at WSF in Louisville last month.

“We didn’t do as well as we should have,” he explained. “We had the second highest score after day one but we had a fall on day two. The next morning, within my cheer hangover haze, after not sleeping well, I thought, if we feel this bad, imagine how the kids must feel.”

So he wrote a love-letter of sorts.

“At the end of the day, she’s my daughter and I wanted her to know that it’s ok to be disappointed, but to also be proud of what they did. And it's important for me to say it.”

Confessions of a CHEER DAD:

I didn’t wake up one day deciding to be a cheer dad.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I was best suited to carry large amounts of bags like a bellboy.

I didn’t wake up and realize that I wanted to work exhausting shifts on weekends making money for booster accounts. I didn’t choose to drop off and pickup my daughter at the gym five times a week for hours on end. I didn’t choose to wait around 30 minutes after a three hour practice for one last elite stunt run through, to buy $200 worth of spirit wear for the family at the pro shop, or to hear parents complain about why Suzy isn’t in the front pyramid.

I didn’t choose to spend 15 hours a day for two days at a convention center waiting for our team to perform on the mat. I didn’t choose to hear others talk about how cheerleaders aren’t athletes but glorified beauty queens. I didn’t choose to give my daughter my last $10 so she could eat for the first time in eight hours. I didn’t choose to see the elation of a National Championship or a perfect, zero deduction, awe-inspiring performance. I didn’t choose to see my daughter finally realize the distance between that elation and utter disappointment is razor thin.

I didn’t choose to explain to my daughter that all the hours of hard work, the hurt backs, the sprained ankles, the pulled muscles, and the kicks in the face don’t guarantee a win. And I definitely didn’t choose to see my daughter feel the pain of defeat after an exhausting weekend.

What did I choose then?

I chose to be the best dad I could be. I chose to support my daughter in both the triumphs of victory and the agonies of defeat. I chose to yell and scream when she is on the mat so she knows I am there in support. I chose to loyally defend her athletic ability against anyone who says she isn’t one.

I chose to drive hundreds and hundreds of miles, sometimes in snow and rain, to make sure she has the opportunity to compete on national stages. I chose to wear a shirt that proudly displays my support for her. I chose to take pictures and make lasting memories for her to remember and show her kids one day.

I chose to give her space with her friends during competition weekends or to hold her so tight when she comes from backstage after a failed performance.

But most importantly, I chose to love her. And by doing so, I chose to teach her that with the good comes the bad. My daughter loves this sport and works hard to be great at it.

By choosing to cheer, she has already made an investment in her future. She has learned about friendships, about victory and defeat, about hard work and what it takes to be a champion, and about how to structure her day between cheer and school and extra-curriculars. Cheer has taught her things I cannot as a dad. And I am grateful she has the opportunity to gain these life lessons.

If I deny her this, I would not only be a bad cheer dad, I wouldn’t be a dad at all. So in the end, I guess I am right that I didn’t choose to be a cheer dad…Cheer chose me!

AJ Johnson; Mideast Elite Cheer Dad

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