Full Out

Isak Taylor finds a community in the varsity cheer squad
Junior Isak Taylor performs a chant during the fall sports pep rally. Taylor made the varsity squad after trying out April 2023. “Cheering is such an adrenaline rush,” Taylor said. “We’re always really excited because thats what gets the crowd pumped up. I feel like you cant even describe it unless youre there.”
Junior Isak Taylor performs a chant during the fall sports pep rally. Taylor made the varsity squad after trying out April 2023. “Cheering is such an adrenaline rush,” Taylor said. “We’re always really excited because that’s what gets the crowd pumped up. I feel like you can’t even describe it unless you’re there.”
Vincent Hsiao
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After a long morning of practicing chants and stunts at cheer camp, junior Isak Taylor comes back from a quick water break to find a giant poster that reads, “HAPPY SWEET SIXTEEN, ISAK.” The whole camp gathers, and a few hundred voices join together to sing him “Happy Birthday,” loudly and discordantly and joyfully. Teammates drop by to sign the poster, and by the time the day ends, it’s full of names and well-wishes. As he laughs and celebrates with girls he thinks of like sisters, something clicks in place, an old ache settling inside him.

He’s home.

Taylor began cheering in April of 2023, though the seeds had been sown a long time before.

“I’ve always been a performer,” Taylor said. “I used to do dance when I was younger. Plus, I had a lot of friends on the team and Caleb, who was the boy cheerleader before me, we were friends. When I told him that I was interested, he was really happy. I was going to join last year but I didn’t have the courage to do so. But when this year came along, I was just [going] do it. It was an impulse decision that I do not regret.”

In the beginning, it wasn’t easy. Though ideas surrounding gender have become much more flexible in recent years, there is still a stigma around the traditional norms being broken — like a boy doing cheer.

“When I first started, I struggled because I didn’t know if people were gonna look at me any differently,” Taylor said. “I do think I’ve gotten a lot of backlash from people because they don’t like it. It really doesn’t get to me now because I’m doing what I enjoy and I’m not doing anything to hurt nobody. It’s also helped other people see the different side of me that I really want people to see.”

Now, Taylor’s gender doesn’t play into his relationship with cheer at all — the sport feels natural.

“Being a boy doing cheer really doesn’t mean anything big to me,” Taylor said. “Most people think being a boy doing cheer and being a girl doing cheer are two different things, but cheering is the same to me. I chant, I do stunts. I just cheer.”

Taylor also faced internal struggles when adapting to the intensive environment that defines cheer.

“At first, [Isak] was just really hard on himself,” cheer coach Merri Cross said. “He came in really only knowing what he saw being a student and there’s a lot more to cheering than just the chants on the sideline.”

Still, even in the beginning, Taylor’s passion for cheer and desire to learn was as clear as day.

“Isak has incredible energy,” Cross said. “He is really fun to be around. He’s really driven. He has a lot of ambition and I think that he’s really found what he wants to have, that he wants cheer as part of his future. He has this million watt smile that you can’t miss.”

For Taylor, cheer is not only about athleticism, but also about creativity and beauty.

“I think [cheer is] both an art and a sport,” Taylor said. “Like dance, it’s a sport, because there’s so much athleticism that goes into it. But it’s also like the art of cheer. You’re creating something, whether that’s a chant, a stunt [or] a dance. Cheer is also an art, because art to me is creating something.”

Among his teammates, Taylor has found a community of friends and a place to learn.

“Caleb was one of my biggest role models because he was the boy [cheerleader] before me and I think the only boy ever before him,” Taylor said. “Our seniors now are also big role models for me. To see how far they’ve come and just how bright their aura is, whenever I see it I think about how I want to be that when I’m a senior.”

His teammates have seen Taylor grow and also changed their perceptions of him in the process. 

“I was really shy around him at first because he was popular, friends with everyone,” junior Kiyla Ray said. “But then I got closer to him, and I saw how he treated people, and how kind he was, and he really grew into himself around the team.”

His coaches have also been able to watch him step out of his shell and into his skills.

“He’s worked really hard to set himself on a new path,” Cross said. “I’m really proud of him. He’s struggled a bit with facing stigma for being just a guy in cheer. It took Isak time to feel confident in who he is and embrace who he is. That’s hard for any high school kid, right? Everybody is growing at different speeds and accepting themselves in different ways. But I told him, ‘You’re an amazing person, and once you believe that and you step into that, it really doesn’t matter what those folks who are giving you trouble for being a guy are saying.’”

Ultimately, Taylor has grown into himself through cheer and the surrounding environment.

“We’re like a family,” Taylor said. “Now I feel like I’m free to do whatever and be who I am because now people have seen who I am and still accepted me.”

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  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

  • Taylor practices with teammates in the Nielson Gym. Taylor was given the position of backspot, the cheerleader who braces the ankles of fliers and calls counts for stunts. “[Cheer is] more of a mindset than a physical aspect because you can gain strength,” Taylor said. “For the mindset, you just need to realize that you’re not going to hit it every time. You have to work for it.”

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About the Contributors
Celina Zhou
Celina Zhou, Staff
This is sophomore Celina Zhou's first year on Panorama as a staffer. She likes secondhand books, bullet chess and Wong Kar-Wai movies.
Vincent Hsiao
Vincent Hsiao, Photo Editor in Chief
Sophomore Vincent Hsiao is the photography editor in chief for Panorama. He was previously a staff photographer for Ladue Publications where he significantly contributed to photos in both the Panorama newsmagazine and Rambler yearbook. Outside of photography, Hsiao is on the Ladue swim team and has been a swimmer since he was six.
Mac Huffman
Mac Huffman, ID Editor in Chief
Chronic mispeller, usually outdoors, photo obsessed and founding ID Editor in Chief. When Mac's not editing, they're typically designing infographics or writing stories about identity, food and harm reduction. This is their 3rd year and final year on publications staff.
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