38 / CHRONICLESnCincinnati, Ohio (one of them innborrowed shorts), do their stuff.nTheir stuff was not encouraging.nThe squad’s big move, their finale,nwas an extension. An extension isnaccomphshed when two girls on thenfloor lift their arms and lock theirnelbows while a third girl stands 12 feetnin the air on their hands. It is the jobnof the girl being extended to balancenherself securely, snap her arms skywardnvictoriously, maintain a smile,nand generally look as though there isnno place on earth she’d rather be thannperched high in the air on the hands ofntwo friends. While this is going on, thenrest of the squad are creating a pleasingnpicture of symmetry by taking equallynunnecessary risks.nThe girl chosen to be extended is, ofncourse, the smallest. The smallest girlnwas, naturally, my daughter. Over thenpast months, I had come to think ofnthe extension as The Extension and tondisapprove of it as a mother on principle.n(Why go up there? Is this a skillnyou can use later in life?) However, asna physical coward, one who would paynto avoid both extending and beingnextended, I was forced to admire suchna stunt.nBut on this night, the night beforenthe competition. The Extension wasnnot going well. The girls were tired;ntheir timing was off. Their arms wouldnbuckle, then my daughter’s legs wouldnbuckle, then she would fall. Are wenhaving fun yet?nOur daughter’s squad was schedulednto perform at 3:56 Saturday afternoon.nWe were there by 1:30 to see what wencould see. We saw plenty. The NationalnCheerleaders Association’s HighnSchool Cheerleaders National Championshipnis an enormous event, withnthousands of girls from around thencountry competing in routines that arenphysically daring, musically sophisticated,nand altogether impressive. Itnquickly became apparent that the bestnsquads had several things in common.nThey all parted their hair down thenback and tied it high above their earsnin fluffy little-girl “puppy tails.” (Inwould like to have had the hair spraynconcession that weekend.) They allnspoke with Southern accents. (“Go!nFight! Wee-yun!”) They all smilednconstantly and aggressively. (At onenpoint my daughter marveled to herself,n”The fakiness in this place is sort ofnamazing.”) And they were all veryngood at things like The Extension.nIt was also obvious that the afternoonnwould be marked by an unrestrainednadolescent emotionalism thenlikes of which I had never encountered.nWhether doing well or “messingnup”—“messing up” counting mainlynas a fall, usually from an Extension—nthe reaction was the same: screaming,ncrying, hugging. With the squads thatnmessed up, there seemed to be a littlenless hugging and a lot more crying.nThirty minutes before Cincinnati’snperformance I went to the ladies’nroom. A mistake. The ladies’ room ofnthe Orange County Convention Centernwas on that afternoon the retreat ofnevery cheerleader who had messed up.nThere was sobbing. There was wailing.nOne girl had locked herself in anstall and would not come out, despitenthe soothing words of her adviser.nScanning this scene, it occurred to menfor the first time to question whethernmy daughter would lock herself in thenladies’ room if she messed up ThenExtension. I didn’t think so, but Inknew for sure that if she did, I wouldnnot stand at the door trying to coax hernout.nAt 3:56 the girls we came to seenwalked on stage and smiled (thoughnnot aggressively) at the judges. By 3:59nthey were busy hugging. Yes, ThenExtension worked. Yes, my daughternsmiled and looked as though there wasnno place on earth she’d rather be—nwhich at that moment might very wellnhave been accurate. And yes, I felt likena million bucks.nNo, they did not make the finals, angroup of 10 squads (out of 100) chosennfrom their division to compete thenfollowing night. The finalists were announcednback in the hotel ballroom,nwhich held a terrible crush of people,nmost of them anxious parents. AnCheerleader Mom from Natchez,nMississippi — information I gatherednfrom the large buttons pinned to hernsweater—turned to me and said, “Beforenthis is all over, I’m just gonnanbust!” This rather startled me, since Indidn’t feel at all as if I was gonna bust.nFaint, maybe; bust, no.nLater, we went back to our daughter’snroom for the most memorablenhalf-hour of the trip. First, there wasnthe room. Four girls had lived there forntwo days, which should give any think­nnning person an idea of what the placenlooked like. For good measure, theynhad told the maid she could skip 1639.nConsidering the state of the room, thisndecision (1) made no discernible sensenand (2) probably saved the maid’s life.nSuffice to say there were piles ofnclothes everywhere, most of them havingna life of their own. (They grewneven as I stood there.) But amidst thenclothes could be found the girls, andnthe girls were just right. Their attitudenwas a reassuring combination of desirenand reality, competitiveness and commonnsense: If you are in a contest, younshould want to win it; you should try tonwin it. But if the contest you’re in is ancheerleading contest, well, “defeat” isnnot a life and death matter. Not one ofnthem was about to lock herself in thenbathroom. Way to go, Cincinnati.nSunday was the big night, the finals.nHaving seen this much of the NationalnCheerleaders Association’s HighnSchool Cheerleaders National Championship,nI was not about to miss thenmain event. The place was standingroom-only.nThe place was hot. Thenprogram started late and ran long.nMore girls messed up; more girls cried.nBut I counted the evening a greatnsuccess because the finalists includednCumberland County High School ofnBurkesville, Kentucky, my mother’snhometown. And the winner andnchampion in the small varsity divisionnwas Barren County High School,nGlasgow, Kentucky, where I have lotsnmore kin. Way to go, Kentucky.nI don’t think I would choose tonattend the National Cheerleaders Association’snHigh School CheerleadersnNational Championship on a regularnbasis. It’s possible I could get hooked.nIt’s possible I could feel like I wasngonna bust. But I’m glad I went thisntime. I got to see my daughter and hernfriends do their best and feel goodnabout it. I was able to witness myn14-year-old son’s amused and amazednreaction to adolescent femininity ennmasse. (“They never shut up,” hensaid.) I got to watch my husband,neasygoing to the point of foolishness,nagree to deliver nine McDonald’snbreakfast orders to the rooms of thenCincinnati cheerleaders. After listeningnfor 10 minutes to everyone talkingnat once, after hearing such instructionsnas, “I’ll have a large juice—no, ansmall juice — wait, I’m allergic ton