It was not a lack of strength and agility that stopped Austin Carter from playing football or soccer or any of the other traditional male sports featured at
At 6’ 2”, 190 pounds, his athletic talents and academic skills afforded him plenty of choices. So he chose the one that best served his passion, cheerleading.
The girls who are his teammates, his many other close friends, nieces and nephews, all were in abundance Saturday evening at a going-away party in his honor at his stepmother’s church, the Living Waters Assembly of God.
Amidst the cake and sandwiches and picture taking, their affection for Carter populated the air as they said goodbye. The 17-year-old student athlete is swapping the “Seahawk Life” of the Forgotten Coast for the Seahawk life of the Pacific Northwest, to finish up his last year of high school living with an uncle in Bellingham, Washington, a city as far north and west to the Canadian border you can go without stepping on a maple leaf.
His father, Ronald Carter, is happy his older brother, a retired Marine colonel with plenty of resources to do as he wishes, is excited about taking his son in.
All of Ronald Carter’s siblings spent time in the military, children of an Air Force master sergeant who introduced his family to the area while stationed at Tyndall. Ronald Carter is now retired from the service, working in maintenance for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Eastpoint.
In his toast to his son, he reminded him that a cellphone is a useful tool these days. He said this with a tear of joy in his eye, as he thinks about what his son has accomplished, and the opportunities that lie ahead.
“He’s a great kid,” said his cheerleading coach, Lynn Clark.
Carter’s gal pals couldn’t agree more.
“I can't even start to explain about how genuine he is,” said Eve Bond. “He's very real about anything and everything. He'll let you know the truth but he's never mean about it.”
Following his freshman year, Carter was encouraged by Cynthia Duncan to act on his interest in cheerleading. He tried out, and made the team.
“Ever since then I’ve been in love with it,” he said. “I’m enjoying being in front of people.”
Most of what he learned he picked up on his own, as the previous coach had little if any experience with how to incorporate a boy into an all-female squad.
“She didn’t know what kind of uniform to order,” said Carter. “The internet helped a lot.”
Of course, the girl cheerleaders had an ulterior motive for wanting a boy on the team, especially a strong one, with patience and an outgoing personality.
“The reason is they can do more stunts. They’ve got the strength; they can throw their flyers higher,” said Jamie Rohrer, an assistant director at the Florida High School Athletic Association who has overseen the implementation of competitive cheerleading in the state ever since it started a decade ago.
The FHSAA doesn’t govern sideline cheerleading, such as
“It’s grown pretty quickly,” said Rohrer. “We’re the largest state in the nation for competitive cheerleading.”
She said the coed division is one of the largest divisions at the state level, with 40-50 teams. “You’re looking at half the teams in
While male cheerleaders are uncommon in rural North Florida, there are plenty of boys taking part at high schools in central and south
“Some recruit football players and wrestlers just to enhance their stunts. A lot of males are tumblers too,” Rohrer said.
“They loved that we had a male,” said Carter.
He exercised extensively to maintain his stature as the team’s physical anchor. Muscle exercises, pushups, pull-ups, a lot of stretching, all figured into his regimen.
“It’s a good workout, starting with gymnastics,” Carter said. “I’ve gained a lot of really good friends, that you knew you could trust.”
The emotions that emerged in pioneering a new role for boys at the school shaped the young man’s perspective. “I never knew what they’d see or how they were going to react to it,” he said.
Carter also experienced the stress of how some others would comprehend his homosexuality. Some bullying, some nasty comments, are a remnant of the past, and they don’t seem to bother the soft-spoken honor student..
“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion,” he said. “It’s always an awkward topic. You can tell if people bring it up.”
Bond said her best friend set an example for grace under pressure. “He's the most confident person I know,” she said. “He believes that everyone should be proud of themselves and be who they are.”
Once he settles into a room added on to his uncle’s house, Carter will start at
After graduation, he plans to major in math and minor in philosophy at college. Carter also plans to take advantage of the many opportunities the area has to offer, and step through any doors that his illustrious uncle, who served in counterintelligence during his career, may be able to open for him.
“He's smart inside and outside of school,” said one girl. “Which is very rare to find around here.”