As the Brazoswood Buccaneers take the field tonight in their first home game of the season, there will be a lot of cheering.
No, the football team isn't a favorite to win the state championship. In fact, it might be difficult to focus on the players at all, what with all the pleated skirts and school sweaters awhirl on the sidelines.
Brazoswood High has one of the largest cheerleading squads in the district - and it's not entirely by choice. After two judges admitted to rigging the scores during cheerleading tryouts last spring, everyone was invited to be on the squad - 60 pompommed girls in all.
And, yeah, they've got spirit.
It seems Texas has no shortage of cheerleaders, or cheerleading scandals. This is the same state, remember, where a mother was convicted of plotting to have the mother of her daughter's cheerleading rival killed. It is also the birthplace of the white go-go booted Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, who pranced all over the words "women's lib" during the 1970s.
The thing is, Texas takes its cheerleading pretty dang seriously. While the Lone Star state is not alone in its love of the pleated-skirt set (cheerleading continues to gain popularity - with about 600,000 teens doing the splits across the country), this latest incident at Brazoswood High shows just how far districts are willing to go for a little school spirit. It may even offer some insight into why the quest for pep is so deeply rooted in Texas culture.
No longer is it just a matter of asking the French teacher to judge tryouts and convincing the home ec teacher to sponsor the squad. Some school districts spend thousands of dollars on outside judges and sponsors, who are trained and certified by nationally recognized cheerleading associations.
"Cheerleading is probably bigger in Texas than in other parts of the country, because high school football is so huge here," says Eric Osburn, a regional staffing director for the National Spirit Group in Dallas.
His organization is one that supplies high schools with a list of certified judges.
A few years ago, he was a judge at a school near Austin, where 280 teens showed up for tryouts. It took six hours to judge them all - and that's not the largest turnout he's seen.
In the case of Brazoswood, 60 girls showed up for tryouts, and a faculty sponsor persuaded two of the four hired judges to falsify scores. But those scores immediately caused suspicion, especially when novice cheerleaders scored well and accomplished ones did not.
The complaints flooded in and, in typical Texas fashion, one parent even threatened a lawsuit.
The sponsor was asked to resign. Superintendent Rudy Okruhlik said he doesn't know what motivated her, but some of the girls speculate that she was playing favorites or wanted to give those who normally wouldn't make the squad a chance to cheer.
When all was said and done, all 60 were invited to participate - double the normal number.
On a recent evening, the girls filled a gym to practice for upcoming events. Dressed in a pink tank top, blue shorts, and a pink hair ribbon, a varsity cheerleader led the group in a "BHS, let's go Bucs" routine.
The girls' white tennis shoes squeaked on the gym floor as they furiously twirled their arms around in time with their gyrating hips.
"When you're doing the 'go,' make sure your hips are going around with your arms," the varsity cheerleader called out to the mass before signaling for another attempt.
Patti Roznovsky, the new squad sponsor, looked across the sea of faces and focused on the hard work it takes to cheer. "We consider it a sport," she said.
That attitude upsets some who believe cheerleading should be abolished altogether. "Cheerleading puts girls on the sidelines, and I want girls to be on center stage," says Mariah Burton Nelson, author of "The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football." "Instead of spending time in a support role, they could be spending time developing sports skills."
Ms. Nelson says she frequently receives hate e-mail from 12-year-old girls who contend cheerleading is a sport - though she can't tell from which state they're writing.
Indeed, cheerleading is becoming more physical as girls flock to all-star competitions and colleges begin to offer spirit scholarships. Its competitive side was even highlighted last year in the hit film "Bring It On."
As athletic director for the Fort Bend School district, just west of Houston, Keith Kilgore oversees cheerleading at the eight high schools and 11 middle schools in his suburban district. Three years ago, these cheer squads were placed under the guidance of the district athletic department.
The main reason: "Cheerleading is changing," says Mr. Kilgore. While he stops short of calling it a sport, he says, "It's gone from being simply the support group it was 10 years ago to a competitive activity."