Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Pompoms, routines and a little bit of Zen

Why on earth would those gorgeous cheerleaders want to hang out with a guy like me? When I was in college, I asked myself that question many times. I was the antithesis of the basketball superstar. Those who stared in envy would proclaim, “He's such a geek!”

But being a geek is sexy if you wear it right. I must have worn it right.

In the late '60s the University of Dayton had a great basketball team. We also had the best cheerleaders in Ohio. The cheer team members would often sit in the student union and share their lunches with me. They would discuss their romances and debate the war. I'd help them with their homework.

I learned to appreciate their dedication to the university and their countless hours of hard work perfecting their routines. When they weren't cheering during a game, they were practicing three hours per day. When the Dayton cheerleaders entered the arena, they brought the house down.

After graduation we followed different paths. Traveling down the path I chose, it didn't take long to disassociate from the memories of the cheer team.

Life often takes us full circle and returns us to the past. It's déjà vu. Forty-four years later, arriving home from a long day of saving souls, I heard daughter Sabine exclaim, “I made the cheer team!”

Once again I became a groupie of cheer, but this time from the bleachers.

After an informative conversation with Kristina Kalb, pep squad advisor and sports coordinator, I need to brag a little about the cheer squad at La Cañada High.

I appreciate the vision that Kalb brings to the cheer program. The cheerleaders are more than a group of girls with a synchronized repertoire of chants and moves. Kalb has her eye on a greater purpose. Providing the cheer team with a foundation of life skills is paramount to her program. Being integral to a team, having integrity and accepting others is crucial.

After spending considerable time trying to find the Zen of cheer, I understand the premise of John Gray when he asserts that women, being from Venus, have a nature steeped in altruism. Giving their time and support to others and representing the school supports Gray's assertion that the work of women is never done. It is understandable that cheerleaders work tirelessly for the glory of others.

In addition to teaching political science, Kalb coordinates 42 girls and teaches a methodology distinct to the cheer team, the song team and the flag team. She then coordinates these teams as they cheer for the freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams.

“I want these girls to be the best young ladies possible,” Kalb remarked.

I appreciate a teacher whose view goes beyond the obvious and realizes that the essence of teaching is to change lives. I have seen the evolution of my daughter and am aware of the encompassing experience cheer has been.

Cheerleading is not about pompoms, dazzling costumes and stunts. Cheering is about spirit, teamwork, practice, discipline and exuberance. If I were to write a Ninth Beatitude, it would go something like this: “Blessed are those who are the purveyors of spirit.” That's what cheerleaders do. They bring spirit and enthusiasm to life.

The philosophy of Joseph Campbell asserts that, “A vitalized person vitalizes!” Such people bring life and hope. That's what cheerleaders do.

The bell rang. Kalb had to run to class. However, she left me with one last thought: “I want these girls to know how important they are. I love them all.”

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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