Finding his niche

Kevin Knutson just tried out for the heck of it, not really expecting to win a place on the cheer squad.

When tryouts were finished, however, Knutson, 15, was one of 13 students selected for this year’s Saghalie Junior High cheerleading squad. The ninth-grader, who tried out on a whim after a friend on the squad suggested it, is the only male on the squad.

In fact, he’s the first male cheerleader at Saghalie.

“I got kidded some in the beginning of the year by other boys in the class, but those that got aggressive about it, I just blew them off and don’t have anything to do with them,” Knutson said.

Tina Lee, Knutson’s mother, was excited about her son’s new activity.

“He kind of got burned out doing baseball, but I insisted he get involved in some sport this year, and was pleased when he tried out for cheerleading,” Lee said.

Cheerleading is a family tradition. Kevin’s younger sister, Bobbie Knutson, 12, is a cheerleader for the Federal Way Hawks. The baby of the family, Athena Lee, 2, is the team’s mascot.

Tina Lee herself is a Hawks team manager and coaches their cheerleading squad.

“Kevin’s been accepted extremely well,” Saghalie cheerleading coach Shara Nelson said. “The girls on the squad have been very protective of him and are the first to defend him. Although there are occasionally some negative comments from the crowd, mostly they are encouraging.”

Knutson didn’t believe he had any special advantage trying out for the squad because of his gender, and Nelson confirms that.

“We didn’t feel we had to accept him; he had an enthusiasm, good voice projection, and he catches on quickly,” she said. “I’m hoping we’ll continue to get more males.”

Both Knutson and his mother are well aware that having cheerleading on his transcript could be advantageous in college recruiters’ eyes.

“They’re looking for all-around athletes, and cheerleading is an all-around sport,” Knutson said.

Laurie Beaver, the head cheerleading coach at Decatur High School, said serious male cheerleaders are very attractive to college recruiters.

“At the college level, cheerleading is becoming increasingly competitive, and coaches are very eager to find young men who know it, understand it and can perform the increasing amount of stunting that’s being seen,” Beaver said.

At Decatur, there are two male cheerleaders this year – both well known athletes – and their personal popularity has made cheerleading for males more acceptable than it has been in the past, Beaver said.

“It’s still kind of a taboo thing for young men at Decatur and Federal Way (high schools),”she said. “The kids tend to be hard on guys who try out for cheerleading.”

Beaver is pleased that the activity is gaining respect.

“It’s serious. We do a lot of practice, we do a lot of exercise and our squad members are tough,” she said.

At Thomas Jefferson High, the situation is much different. Their cheer squad has 12 girls and 12 guys. The head cheer coach is David Vincent, a popular teacher.

“He’s really the person who’s broken down the stereotypes about male cheerleaders,” said Shannon Rasmussen, who for 13 years coached cheerleading at Kilo Elementary. “He and I coached cheerleading together at Kilo, and it was in 1992 I believe that we had our first male cheerleaders, in the whole district, I think, but certainly at the junior high level.”

At the time, the pair actively recruited boys for the cheer squad because it was competing vigorously, in California, nationally and even up into Canada, Rasmussen said.

“We recruited guys who were great athletes,” she said, “and had a strong sense of themselves so they could withstand the kidding they got.”

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