During practice this football season, Henry Clay coaches joked with senior kicker Evan Works about shaking up his routine.
“I started kicking field goals and they asked me if I’d rather do it in a skirt or needed pom-poms while I punted,” Works said with a laugh.
The lighthearted humor stemmed from Works’ participation in another sport. One day after spring football practice, he tried out for the school’s cheerleading squad — without any prior stunt or gymnastics experience — but managed to make the varsity squad.
“I guess they believed in me that I could learn it fast enough,” said Works, who went out for the team after a girl on the team kept encouraging him to do so. “It’s been fun.”
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It’s also been time-exhaustive. During football season, Works would get to Henry Clay at about 8 a.m. and sometimes not leave the campus until 9:45 p.m. He’d pack multiple changes of clothes for his various practices.
When summer practice for both sports began, Works would spend upwards of eight hours fine-tuning routines on the turf and in the gym. Time not spent in organized practice was used at tumbling classes, which he attended two or three times a week.
“Even when I wasn’t practicing I was trying to learn other stuff and do extra stuff other than my cheerleading practice just to catch up,” Works said. “Not even catch up, but attempt to catch up and try to get somewhat on their level.”
The work has paid off. At the onset, Works couldn’t perform a simple handstand or cartwheel. Now he’s almost able to perform a backflip without a backspot. Once you get used to the technique, he said, it’s more mental than anything. That’s not to suggest it’s been easy, however.
“It’s very self-rewarding because you can see your progress a lot. It’s very visible,” Works said. “You’re doing the same thing, with the same group, over and over and over again, so you can see when you’re hitting this or someone’s not doing this particular thing well. Two or three practices later after they’ve worked on it, it’s hitting now. ... It’s crazy how much harder it is than everybody thinks it is.”
Works, who made two field goals and 20 of 25 extra-point attempts this season, isn’t the only male athlete on Henry Clay’s team who plays multiple sports. Ben Young, a freshman baseball player, and Michael Schaffhauser, an eighth-grader who played football for Morton Middle School are teammates. Works said he’s not faced any criticism or been negatively stereotyped due to his participation in an activity traditionally dominated by girls.
“It’s almost the opposite. ‘You’re only doing it because of the girls,’” he said. “Some of my best friends will mess around with me, y’know, crack a couple of jokes.”
He was disappointed that Henry Clay finished second to Scott County in the Coed A Division at the 11th Region competition in October, meaning the Blue Devils won’t get to compete for a state championship this weekend. The team did recently receive a bid for UCA’s National High School Cheerleading Championship, though, which is held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and televised on ESPN networks.
Works joked with his mom about the trip to the competition, which takes place Feb. 11-12. It’s not exactly how he envisioned spending his winter this time a year ago.
“I had been to Universal Studios as a kid but I had never been to Disney World,” Works said, “and now I’m going when I’m 18 years old on a cheerleading trip.”
▪ The fourth KHSAA State Competitive Cheer Championships will be held this Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park. This year’s 11th Region representatives are: Paul Laurence Dunbar (all-girls large division), Madison Southern (all-girls medium division), Lexington Christian (all-girls small division), Madison Central (all-girls super division), Scott County (Coed A division) and Tates Creek (Coed B division). Madison Central, Madison Southern and Scott County posted the top scores in their respective divisions during the regional round.
The divisions are based upon the number of participants on the teams. A complete schedule of performances is available at bit.ly/2heMAkY. Advance tickets are $10 for the entire session. Parking is $5.
▪ A reader was disappointed that Johnson Central’s football triumph over Franklin-Simpson on Sunday was referred to as the school’s first team state title in any sport. She was a member of the Johnson Central cheerleading team that won the in-game boys’ Sweet Sixteen cheer title in 2015. Here’s a statement from the KHSAA addressing the issue: “The KHSAA recognizes state champions in the sport-activity of Competitive Cheer. The in-game competitions held during the boys’ and girls’ Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournaments are not ‘state championships’ as there is no qualifying competition for the cheerleaders to participate in the event (such as a regional). Participation in the in-game competition involves an outside group judging one performance by the cheerleading teams, at an event the cheerleaders are attending as a result of the play by their respective basketball teams at the regional tournaments. Though not recognized as a KHSAA State Championship, the achievement is nonetheless noteworthy.”