Portrait of a male cheerleader
What does it take to become a male cheerleader?
Spring Grove Area High School junior Blake Forry, 16, said it started with six years of gymnastics training and his stepsisters, who quit gymnastics to do cheerleading. Blake, who lives with his father and grandparents, said he remembers going to his stepsisters' cheer competitions and thinking it was an awesome sport.
When he was in gymnastics, he said, his specialties were floor, vault and tumbling. And so far all of those skills have transferred to cheer.
Blake switched sports at age 11, and he became a cheerleader at New Oxford Middle School. Now he has spent three years on the competitive cheer team The Reign in Hanover, Maryland.
Last year, the team placed second in its division, making it one of the best in the sport. Those on the team must try out for it. Blake views it as an honor to have been chosen for the team. He's setting his sights on the next level, which is college.
He said the University of Louisville and University of Central Florida are his top two choices because of their cheer programs. College programs look at an athlete's stunting ability, he said, as well as tumbling and jumping — three things he's really good at.
Blake Forry, shows off his tumble passes outside of his home March 24, 2017, in Paradise Township.
His grandmother, Pauline Forry, is mainly responsible for taking Blake to Maryland for practices.
"When he's cheering, he has an enthusiasm. ... When he's cheering and does his stunts, he does them completely and they're clean — he's not a sloppy performer," she said. "Plus, other parents are always commenting on how great he is."
She admitted that "at first I wasn't totally accepting of the sport, because I didn't want him to be branded, but he doesn't care that he is. Also, wherever he's cheered, we have always been told that he has an ability that didn't compare to others," she said. "He was so much more advanced than the other kids. He's a natural."
Blake said he was tormented in middle school and the beginning of high school for being a male cheerleader. But since he was on the cover of Inside Cheerleading magazine in October, he said, "they kinda get the real deal of what I can do, and their reactions are usually like, 'Oh my God, like, you're really good.'"
Along with the branding of being a male cheerleader, Blake is out and very open about being gay.
"I feel like I've always known. I just never really told anyone, because I was scared of how they would react," he said.
Cheerleading is an outlet for Blake to get away and express himself, he said.
"With my family I'm very restricted in my emotions and how I express them — as to when I'm with my friends and their parents, I can just let loose and be myself," he said.
The scheduling is often tricky, with cheer practices Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays.
A typical schedule for his grandmother on those days would be to pick him up at school at 2:30 p.m., bring him home to change clothes, head to York for a bite to eat, then head down to Hanover, Maryland, for practice. Practice goes from 6 to 9 p.m. (or sometimes later depending on choreography), and then they get home about 11 p.m.
Sundays, Blake has to be in Hanover by 10 a.m., and practices can run until 2 p.m. He said he usually does his homework either in study halls or homeroom.
As for role models, he said his cheer coaches and athlete Dillon Brandt of Cheer Athletics, a program based out of Plano, Texas, have continually inspired him. He said he wants to model himself after Brandt because of Brandt's tumbling abilities. Blake says Brandt is one of the big faces in the cheer world.
Blake has this advice: "Don't hold back, and follow your dreams."
Blake said he doesn't really care about what people say, because cheering is what he loves to do. He said "to definitely try it and don't get discouraged by people calling you names and bringing you down, because in the end you're going to be the bigger person."