That’s what it is like right now for two young women from Sparks who are winding down their careers as Wolf Pack cheer leaders this week in Las Vegas at the WAC basketball tournament.
Jennifer Mabus and Lisa Fillipone, both 22 and members of the class of 2008 from Reed High School, will turn in their pom poms once the tournament season is over. Neither expected to be on the cheer squad when they started college, but now they can’t imagine having gone without it.
“It’s hard to believe it’s coming to and end, but it’s time to get going on my career,” said Mabus, a mechanical engineering major who is set to leave in June for a civilian job with the U.S. Navy, working on submarines and air craft carriers in Hawaii.
When she was much younger, Mabus was a gymnast and even used to make fun of cheerleaders, she said. After an injury derailed her gymnastics aspirations, she tried soccer and other sports, and was successful at them, but none stuck. She tried dance and eventually made her way into cheerleading in high school.
“It was kind of a cool little circle,” she said.
Wanting to focus on academics at UNR, Mabus didn’t try out for cheerleading until her sophomore year. She said she just felt like something was missing from her life. Turns out, the missing elements were meeting new people, traveling to places she wouldn’t have otherwise seen and “being up front for everything.”
As the sophomore was settling in after her second year of cheer, fellow Reed High alumna Fillipone was facing her own dilemma as a member of the UNR dance team.
At the time, budget cuts hit campus and she was looking for something to do in its place. She was a cheerleader at Reed with Mabus, but her first love had been dance. When the axe fell on her college dance team, she and a half dozen other dancers, transitioned to the cheerleading squad.
Fillipone said the move was a good one for her and she became captain of the pom pom squad this year. This gave her a chance to teach younger members of the team offering her a chance to leave them with valuable leadership lessons.
“I’m really sad because I’m going to be here next year, but I won’t be on the cheer team,” said Fillipone, who is enrolled as a pre-nursing major and will continue her studies until she earns a bachelor’s of science degree.
Fillipone and Mabus said last year’s BCS-busting win over Boise State in football was a highlight of their time as cheerleaders.
For 22-year-old LaRoy Hutchinson, a Bishop Manogue High School grad, who helped coached cheer at Spanish Springs High School, the Boise game was exciting. But it was not quite as memorable as a earlier game this year when he saved the life of a young heart-attack victim at a football game. The fan collapsed and was getting stepped on by other people in the crowd when Hutchinson, who has some medical training and aspires to be a police officer, jumped to his aid and was able to get emergency personnel on scene to save the young man’s life.
“It wasn’t a cheerleading thing, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” said Hutchinson. Being at right place at the right time, with the proper response training, enabled Hutchinson to assist.
Like Mabus and Fillipone, Hutchinson never expected to be a cheerleader. He was a multi-sport athlete at Bishop Manogue and he tried out unsuccessfully for the Wolf Pack football team. He joked with friends that he’d join cheer but was lured to actually do it by the idea of being with a team and still being part of the athletic action — not to mention hanging out with girls all day.
“In football if you drop a ball you get yelled at and run a mile,” Hutchinson said. “But if you drop a girl she could die. You can’t mess up.”
All three young cheer members said their experiences have forged friendships that will last a lifetime.
Though they are all different people, Mabus said the cheer team members have bonded through their common experiences.
“When we put on the uniform we’re all the same person,” she said.