West Ottawa alumnus Sam Beetham got ready for the University of Michigan home game against Penn State in November 2018. Both teams are ranked and excited to play each other.
Between the 3rd and 4th quarters, everyone turned on their phones’ flashlights. “I couldn’t help but let a goofy grin cross my face as I looked up at the 110,000 individual lights,” Beetham said.
Beetham didn’t experience this from the stands. He was cheering on the field.
While males typically aren’t on high school cheer teams, they make up about half of collegiate cheerleaders. Two West Ottawa alumni went out of their comfort zone to join cheer teams in college.
Beetham played sports year round in high school. Once he began college, he needed a way to spend his time. Beetham received a flier from cheer members recruiting new people for tryouts.
“I wasn’t really set on actually trying out until my friend nudged me and said ‘you’d be really good at that, you should try out,’” Beetham said. He made the University of Michigan’s varsity cheerleading team. There are 50 members, and half of them are male.
Beetham had to adjust to the new sport. “We have our own practice schedule that can be quite rigorous when we are preparing to go to Florida for Nationals, but also during football season we spend a large amount of time on game day helping bring spirit and smiles around the stadium,” Beetham said.
Beetham has made memories he won’t forget. “The feeling of being in the midst of winning a big game, the cool autumn night in full swing, music on full blast, being with friends and watching something so extraordinary come to life in front of my eyes was just amazing,” Beetham said.
His other favorite cheer memory was when the team attended Nationals in Florida last spring.
The team won their first NCAA Nationals Championship Game Day 1A category title. “Knowing how much hard work we had put into the season and getting to see it all come together in a big Nationals win was so fun,” Beetham said.
Beetham’s friends were surprised that he joined cheer. “Once they had a chance to think about what that meant and realized that I got to be on the field and at basketball games they were like ‘Oh actually that’s so cool,’” Beetham said.
Jacob Boersema graduated from West Ottawa in 2018 and followed a similar path to Beetham.
Boersema didn’t cheer in high school, but he participated in varsity swimming and water polo. After graduating, he went to Grand Valley State University. During his freshman year, a member of the cheer team stopped him to invite him to tryouts.
Boersema had to adjust to the new demands of cheering. “There are a lot of physical challenges of cheerleading because you have to be able safely hold other people above your head,” Boersema said.
Boersema also enjoyed competing at Nationals in Florida. “It was a rush to compete with thousands of people watching you in person or online. It was some of the most fun I have ever had in my life,” Boersema said.
Boersema is happy he joined. “I made a lot of good friends on the team and the camaraderie is great,” Boersema said.
Both alumni took a chance on something new and found a new passion.
Instructor Kelly Dewitt graduated from Zeeland High School, but has taught at West Ottawa for the last 27 years.
Dewitt was very active in high school. He played football, swam, and ran track. He also participated in his school’s “Black Hole” section.
Dewitt attended Hope College from 1987 to 1991. During his sophomore year, his friend invited him to cheer tryouts. Dewitt went, and after a week, he joined the sideline cheer team.
“I had to get stronger so I could do the stunts. There also was some technique that I had to learn. I didn’t know gymnastics, so I had to learn a back tuck and a back handspring,” Dewitt said.
Dewitt enjoyed all the friends he made and his coaches, but his favorite part of cheering was having front row seats at every game. “I enjoyed being close to all the action,” Dewitt said.
Dewitt’s choice surprised many of his high school friends at first. “They would kind of laugh at me being a cheerleader, but then they would say ‘I know that he’s an athlete,’ so they could see the athleticism behind it,” Dewitt said. Dewitt can still do a handstand.
While the cheer team only did sideline, they still had unofficial competitions. “We had a liberty competition against a bigger school, and I was able to do that stunt longer than anyone else,” Dewitt said.
All the cheerleaders followed essentially the same path. They played high school sports and wanted to do something similar in college. They took a risk in joining cheer, and it paid off.