Sunday, June 10, 2007
By Kenyon Wallace
The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
When Craig Schumacher walked into a Saskatoon Tim Hortons shop, the disappointment on the faces of the adolescent boys behind the counter was palpable.
The signs had announced that two Saskatchewan Roughriders cheerleaders were coming to pour coffee for a good cause. Naturally, the boys expected two blonde bombshells to show up. Instead, in walked the 24-year-old Schumacher in a Roughriders jersey.
He's not a football player. He's a cheerleader -- one of six men on the Roughriders' new cheerleading team. This year marks the first time men have joined the team.
"I came in and said, 'I'm here to pour coffee,' and they looked at me and said, 'You're a cheerleader?'" Schumacher says with a laugh. "I said, 'Sorry, boys, I bet you're not too glad to see me!'"
When most people think of cheerleaders, they think of girls, not guys. It's a stereotype the six-foot, dark-haired and heavily tattooed Schumacher has been fighting for his almost nine-year cheerleading career. He's used to seeing the mix of disbelief and ridicule on people's faces when he tells them he's a cheerleader. Even Schumacher, an English teacher at a Saskatoon high school, would never have seen himself as a cheerleader 10 years ago.
While working at a Saskatoon gas station as a teenager, Schumacher was approached by one of his co-workers who was coaching cheerleading at local high school.
"She hounded me throughout my Grade 11 year to give cheerleading a try," Schumacher recalls. "All I was thinking was, 'There's no way I'm doing that ridiculous activity.' "
When the high school football season ended in the fall of 1998, Schumacher found himself without a sport after deciding not to play hockey during the winter. With time on his hands, he agreed, albeit reluctantly, to come out to one cheerleading practice.
Schumacher managed to persuade a friend to come with him, and the two unexpectedly ended up having a lot of fun.
"I mean, what's not to love about being the only two guys with 20 beautiful girls?" he says with a smile.
Still, it took a while for Schumacher to come to grips with the fact that he had just signed up for cheerleading.
"When I went to the first cheerleading practice, I didn't have a clue what I was doing and thought, 'This is absurd.' We started off doing some toe-touch jumps and some sideline motions and I thought I was going to go out there and look ridiculous."
And the flak he got from his buddies didn't help, either. But Schumacher stuck with it.
A turning point came when the school played host to and won the city basketball championships. The cheerleading team was asked to perform at the pep rally and it gave Schumacher his first opportunity to perform stunts for a large crowd.
"I think people really respected what we were doing when they saw how technically challenging it was. We didn't get booed or laughed at. We had a lot of people who told us afterward, 'That's pretty cool what you did,' and we finally gained some respect."
From there, some University of Saskatchewan cheerleaders convinced him to join that school's team. Schumacher flourished at the U of S, where he met his long-term girlfriend, Sarah Hills, on the Huskies cheerleading team. Furthermore, he made an impression on his coach, Nicole Bidwell, who would remember him when she became the coach of the Roughriders cheerleading team seven years later.
When the Roughriders play their first home game June 22, the crowd can expect to see something different: a newly formed cheerleading team consisting of 13 dancers and 24 stunt performers, with Schumacher as their captain.
In an effort to make football games more appealing for non-fans, the Roughriders are attempting to increase the entertainment level at Mosaic Stadium by adding to the traditional female dance team.