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If you want to know how wife, student and mother of three Terri Hatcher ended up becoming a UALR cheerleader at the ripe old age of 38, ask Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor Wally Hall.
Years ago, in her early 20s, Hatcher was a journalism major at UALR and working part time as an assistant for Hall when she decided to try out for the cheerleading team. A longtime student of gymnastics, Hatcher felt good about her chances, but Hall put the brakes on her ambition.
“I was leaving for tryouts that day, and I felt so confident that I was going to make the squad,” she said. “But he told me that I couldn’t be a cheerleader and work for him. I cried for a solid day.”
The wheel of fortune, however, has a way of coming back around. Though Hall fired her two months after making his never-explained ultimatum, and she dropped out of UALR soon after that, Hatcher never got the cheerleading bug out of her blood. She took up gymnastics training again when her daughter started tumbling classes at 6 years old, and eventually became a gymnastics instructor at a local gym. Last year, she returned to UALR, shooting this time for a major in advertising, marketing and public relations. Then, when the school held cheerleading tryouts early last May, she tried out for and won a spot on the squad, becoming the oldest active cheerleader — the past record was 26 — in the history of the school.
Though her decision to return to college had been a long-held ambition, trying out for the cheerleading squad at an age when most athletes have hung it up was something of a whim. “I thought, you know, I’m going back to school,” Hatcher said. “I’ve always wanted to be a UALR cheerleader. I’m going to try out.”
Though her husband and kids were supportive, Hatcher said the reaction from certain segments of her extended family was what you might expect. “They didn’t really come out and say, ‘You’re too old to do it.’ They just hinted in a roundabout way. Nothing direct.”
Still, she pressed on. When the day of tryouts came, Hatcher — a youthful-looking 38 by anyone’s standards — said that some of the other hopefuls were surprised when they learned her age. “When I’d tell them I have a son that’s their age, they were like, “Wow!” Hatcher said. “They thought it was pretty cool, most of them.”
One who admits to harboring some early doubts is squad co-captain Jeremy Laxton. A four-year member of the UALR cheerleading team, Laxton has seen them come and go. When he heard a 30-something was going to give it a shot, he was skeptical. “Somebody was like, ‘We’ve got a 38-year-old coming [to try out],’ ” Laxton said, chuckling. “I said, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ I kind of laughed it off. But then I saw her and she didn’t act like a 38-year-old.”
Laxton said that from the start, Hatcher was “throwing tumbling passes” that a lot of the younger squad members won’t attempt.
Another who was impressed was UALR cheerleading coach Stan Tabor. He said that Hatcher holds her own against her younger teammates. “If you measure talent by what skills a person has, like tumbling and gymnastics, she actually has more than some of our 18-year-olds,” Tabor said. He called Hatcher a very hard worker who is willing to volunteer for anything the squad needs. Recently, when they needed a set of matching hair bows, Tabor said Hatcher made them all, plus extras. “It sounds silly,” Tabor said, “but they’re kind of a hassle to make.” As for her age, Tabor said she fits right in. “She doesn’t stand out, like ‘Oh, that must be the 38-year-old’… I know she loves it. She’s having a great time.”
Earlier this semester, Hatcher had served as a “base,” anchoring pyramids and launching other girls into acrobatic flips. Then, at a game on November, she landed wrong while coming off a routine maneuver and hurt her knee, tearing several ligaments, which will require an upcoming surgery to repair. Still, being on the injured list hasn’t kept her away from the squad. She attends and suits out for every practice and every game. Her doctor tells her she should be 100 percent in about six months.
In the meantime, Hatcher said, cheerleading helps her schoolwork.
“It pushes me through,” she said. “I know I have to keep a certain grade point average. I know I have to keep so many hours per semester. So the times when things get a little hectic with work and family and school, it really keeps me focused.”
As for her missed chance at being a cheerleader years ago, Hatcher doesn’t seem to hold any grudges. Her answer to the big question of “Why, at your age?” has a Zen-like quality to it — the kind of simple, meaningful sentences that even Wally Hall could love.
“It was kind of a regret,” she said. “I regret that I never tried out, and that I never knew if I was good enough. I’m trying to get rid of all regrets.”
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