By Caleb Knox
Like many other high school freshmen, I was overwhelmed by the whole scene at my first high school football game. The players looked so big. The pep band was cranking out the fight song. The fans were standing and screaming, and the cheerleaders along with them. Through it all, there was one figure who intrigued me the most: Captain Crimson.
Captain Crimson was the mascot for Glencoe High School's Crimson Tide. The spandex-clad superhero (complete with cape and oversized fake muscles) was played by an enthusiastic senior who seemed to know all the cheers. His job was to stand down on the track with the cheerleaders and get the student section pumped up throughout the game. Looking down at Captain Crimson that night, I knew that spandex suit would one day be mine.
Over the next three years, I went to every home football game and most of the away games. I followed the Crimson Tide through victory and defeat, studying our cheerleaders every step of the way. If I was going to become Captain Crimson, I would need to know our cheers.
Three years later, Captain Crimson came up in conversation just before my first student council meeting.
"Who's going to be Captain Crimson this year?" asked Katie, a lifetime student council member. I tried to avoid nominating myself.
"How about Caleb?" suggested Adam, another student council lifer. Apparently, I had a reputation for enthusiasm that reputation preceded me.
"Well, yeah, I could do it, I guess," I said, not fooling anyone. I was bursting with excitement.
A few student council members retrieved Captain Crimson's outfit and presented it to me. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Luckily, the suit fit my slender frame. The running tights were the right size, and I had just bought myself some crimson and black sneakers to match our school colors. The vintage basketball shorts weren't too big, and the fake muscles fit under the long-sleeved spandex. It was perfect. I knew the cheers from my three years in the student section, and now I had the outfit to show for it.
When that first football game finally rolled around, I was pumped. The school day seemed to drag on forever. My first official event as Captain Crimson was our weekly pep assembly on the day of the game. As I got dressed, I grew more and more nervous. Questions started running through my head: "What if I don't know the cheers as well as I think I do?" "What if the crowd isn't excited?" "What if nobody takes me seriously?"
I shook it off and headed to the gym with the rest of the student council. As all 1,500 students filtered in, I realized how large the gym could look when it was packed with people. My first official duty would be to urge the seniors to victory in the first class competition of the year.
At each pep assembly, we held a contest to see which class could cheer the loudest. As the freshmen, sophomores and juniors feebly attempted some of the more difficult cheers, I knew the seniors had this one in the bag. We were rigged to win anyway, but we had to have a better showing than the other three classes.
"Come on, seniors! Get up," I yelled. I knew my enthusiasm would be contagious. It was the seniors' turn to shine, and they rose to the occasion. As the bleachers rumbled under our coordinated stomping, we blew out the other classes. My confidence started to grow. Maybe there was something to this mascot bit, after all.
That night at the game, however, something changed in my head. As the opening kick flew across the field, I could only think of one thing: "Why am I here?" It was my first game as Captain Crimson, and cold feet had set in. I did not want to go down on that track. My earlier eagerness went out the window as the cheerleaders seemed to taunt me with their cheers.
"Move that ball right down the field! Score! Score!"
I was supposed to be down there with them, but instead I half-heartedly cheered while quivering in my spandex suit. About halfway through the first quarter, they figured it out.
"Captain Crimson, what are you doing?"
"Yeah, get down here! We need you!"
I had a decision to make. I could stay up in the stands and pretend I didn't hear them, acknowledge their pleadings and refuse to go down, or I could go and stand among them, as a good mascot should.
"Dude, they're calling for you," my friend Travis pointed out. At this point, there was no turning back. Someone else had noticed. If I didn't go join them now, I would risk losing the job next week. I begrudgingly marched onto the track. After greeting the ladies, I meekly started going through the motions.
"S-C-O-R-E," I mimed alongside the cheerleaders, who seemed happier and more excited than I remembered.
The first half of the game was brutal. I didn't know the cheers, I didn't know the cheerleaders, and I looked like a fool. At halftime, I was ready to call it quits and head back to the stands when a cheerleader walked up to me.
"Hey Caleb, great job," she said. "It's a lot of fun having you down here."
She had to be kidding. I had no idea what I was doing, and it was painfully obvious.
"How am I doing?" I asked my friend Kyle. If anyone would give me an honest answer, it was him.
"Great," he said. "You looked real good down there."
My worst suspicions were never confirmed: I actually did okay. Nobody was going to bail me out. I finished the game, and through the course of the season, I began to perform my duties with increasing poise. Did I look or feel any less stupid the rest of the season? Not really. But I grew to love the job, and it taught me to use my strengths – however silly they may be.