POCATELLO — High school sports fans may have thought they were just watching football during this past August’s annual Rocky Mountain Rumble Extravaganza hosted at Holt Arena.
But history was being made on the sidelines.
Traxton Southwood and Isaac Deakin, two members of Century High School’s cheerleading squad, are defying stereotypes and have raised Century’s squad to the first official co-ed status in Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 — something that requires at least two males on a team.
In May 2017, Deakin tried out for the Century High School cheerleading team and made it. A few months later, Southwood, who was still playing on the Century football team, decided to join the squad as well.
Southwood started playing football in fourth grade.
“Sports have always been a big part of my family,” he said. “I watched my older brother (Trace Bullock) play football for Century. I played baseball, soccer, basketball, too. My freshman year, I decided to focus just on football.”
Southwood played football his sophomore year and then, this past summer, he accompanied his sister, Lanie Southwood, a member of the Century cheer squad, to one of her tumbling practices at Randy’s Tumbling in Chubbuck.
Lanie started teaching Traxton some tricks and he learned how to do a back tuck that night. He also helped the cheer squad practice lifts and throws.
“I started liking it,” Traxton said, and he was surprised at how much it fit his personality.
Traxton continued, “I’ve always been a happy person and then when I went to cheer with my sister, I could be more of myself. I like being a tough guy when I’m doing weights, because I like building muscle, but I don’t like having to worry about dressing a certain way or acting a certain way in order to fit in. … I’m a weird kid that naturally likes to show off, be loud and talk a lot.”
One of the employees at Randy’s, who was a former cheerleader at Century, recognized Traxton’s talent and took videos of him practicing and sent them to Megan Brockett, Century’s cheer coach.
A tragedy brought Traxton and Brockett together to talk about the possibility of him joining the team. On June 18, Century students Eric and Lauren Neibaur were killed in a car accident. Traxton had played football with Eric, and Lauren had been a member of the cheer squad with Lanie.
“When we lost Lauren, we had to pull together and support each other through it and now the team is like family,” Lanie said.
At the memorial service, Brockett invited Traxton to come to a cheer practice. After a football practice in July, Traxton decided to go.
“We would tell him what to do and he would instantly get it,” Lanie said.
Traxton said that after that first practice, he decided to join the team where he then had to commit to practicing football for hours in the morning and cheerleading for hours in the afternoon. He found it hard, but Brockett supported Traxton in putting football first.
Traxton played football until the Idaho Falls game in October. When he found out he wouldn’t be playing in that game, he got permission from the coaches to cheer instead.
“After Idaho Falls, I came up to Megan and said, ‘I’m cheering from now on’ because it was a lot more fun than sitting on the bench. Doing cheer was different and made me happier,” Traxton said.
Traxton and Isaac didn’t know each other well before they joined the cheer squad. They had different interests and hung out with different crowds, but Traxton had noticed Isaac on the cheer team and thought it looked like he was having fun. Because of Isaac’s work schedule, he and Traxton did not officially practice on the squad together until school started.
For Isaac, becoming a cheerleader had never crossed his mind until he decided to help a friend by making a promise to try out for the cheer squad if she would try out for the musical. He never anticipated making the team.
“When I decide to do anything, though, whether that be drama or my job or cheerleading, I put my full effort into it,” Isaac said. “I don’t think my family nor friends ever imagined me cheerleading, but I’ve grown to love it. Traxton is actually a lot better at the stunts and cheering than I am, but I’ll improve and get there some day.”
Isaac says being on the squad is a great way to demonstrate respect for women by breaking down some of the stereotypes surrounding cheerleaders who are normally viewed as unintelligent, peppy and focused on their bodies.
“I have found that to be completely untrue,” Isaac said. “They are intelligent, kind and have standards.”
Brockett commented on how much she appreciates the respect that Traxton and Isaac show to the girls on the squad.
“Cheerleading has been a predominantly female sport,” she said. “They bring so much strength and they are such gentlemen. They open doors or carry their gear. It’s the little respectful things they do that show the girls how they should be treated.”
When asked why these female cheerleading stereotypes might exist, Lanie, who has been involved in cheerleading since she was 2 years old, said, “They don’t really understand what cheer is. They think it’s just that ‘girly’ sport where they are all peppy and annoying and snotty. They don’t know what actually goes on behind the scenes. They don’t know how much we practice and how hard we work. They don’t even think that it’s a sport. I get told that cheer’s not a sport all the time.”
According to the BBC, in December 2016, competitive cheerleading was given provisional status in the Olympics. Competitive, or “all-star,” cheerleading is very different to what is seen on the sidelines. Teams are judged on gymnastic tumbles, dance, stunts and pyramids.
The time involved to physically prepare for events and the financial commitment to be a cheerleader is immense. The Century cheer squad practices year-round several days a week and sometimes on weekends.
The squad does do sideline cheerleading for all of the football games and the home girls and boys basketball games. But the rest of the year, they are preparing for their own competitions, which occur nearly every weekend from January through April. The cost of lodging, food and travel for these competitions is not included in the $3,000 high school cheer squad participation fee.
When comparing cheer’s practice intensity with football’s, Traxton said, “The conditioning in cheer can be just as hard. You work a sweat up and our coach is a personal trainer, too. Football in pads in the hot summer sun gets pretty intense, but I think if some of the football players were to come to some of our workout sessions, they wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Traxton and Isaac both discovered that challenging social stereotypes comes with a price. Isaac said that once the word got out that he’d made the cheer team, he was called “gay,” “homosexual” and a “pervert who just wants to touch girls.”
“That hurt a lot,” Isaac said, “but I decided to accept what people were going to say about it, show through my example that that’s not what I’m about, keep a smile on my face and stay positive. I refused to give up because I believe the only time you fail is when you give up. … Traxton has gotten it worse for having come from the football team, which is perceived as very masculine to cheerleading, which is thought of as feminine.”
Both Traxton and Isaac have stated that they’ve also been shown a lot of support from friends, the cheer coach and squad, football players who know them well, and even football coaches.
Traxton said that after the game against Minico, one of the Century football coaches pulled him aside and talked to him.
“He told me that he was proud of me,” Traxton said. “He told me that he was totally behind my cheering and if I needed anything, he has my back. He told me he wants me to be the best cheerleader that Century’s ever had.”
Both Traxton and Isaac plan on cheerleading until they graduate and then cheer through college to help pay their ways.
“For any other male who wants to pursue cheerleading,” Traxton said, “I’d say just do it. … Life’s too short to care what they think.”