Mike Begovich was concerned. His pal A.J. Diehl, an offensive lineman, seemed interested in becoming a cheerleader.
Naturally Begovich, then a junior defensive lineman at St. Charles North, had his buddy's back.
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"I can't let my friend go up there and just shake pom-poms," he remembered thinking. He joined Diehl at cheerleading practice, quickly shed his prejudices and, as he said:
"I've done it ever since."
And he will continue in college. An all-Upstate Eight cheerleader as a junior, Begovich will be on the squad at the University of Iowa. Accepted into the school last year and officially enrolled by September, he was one of 13 male cheerleaders to be selected after the April 13-15 tryout in Iowa City.
Practices are one weekend a month until he heads to college for good in mid-August. Begovich said he and the squad will perform for football, basketball and volleyball matches, plus public appearances.
A four-year footballer at St. Charles North who would have been the North Stars' top discus and shot put man had he continued this spring in track and field, Begovich has a definitive answer to a controversial prep topic of discussion.
Is cheerleading a sport?
"I completely think it's a sport," said the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder, who had met Iowa cheer coach Gregg Niemiec at the university's skill-building clinic in February.
"It's just like football, and I've played football a lot longer than I've cheered," Begovich said. "Football takes 11 guys on the field working as one team to be successful. Cheer takes the 20 people we put on the floor and the coaches and the four alternates. It takes the effort of every person in the program all committed to the same goal and focused on that goal.
"We work, we lift, we run, we do all this stuff. And when everyone's on the same page, when everyone works together on the floor for the two and a half minutes we're out there, the results are phenomenal."
Begovich, who helped the North Stars competitive team earn state appearances the last two years in the Coed Varsity division (the team also travels nationwide), said he squats about 225 pounds, benches about 200 and hang-cleans about 150.
Being a male cheerleader, however, isn't about concentrated, brute strength. When a girl is standing on the palm of your hand on your fully upraised arm, that's a full-body effort.
"Anyone can bench 300, but unless they have their abs, their legs, every muscle working as one, unless it's cohesive it really doesn't mean anything," Begovich said. "The first day I went to cheer I was mindblown became I just thought it was girls shaking pom-poms. Then went I went up there I thought, holy cow, this is a lot harder than I ever thought."
Begovich was profuse in his admiration and thanks for the North Stars cheer coach Amber Marchetta and flyer Ellie Cooper, who helped develop his repertoire of stunts.
He called the cheer squad a "second family," and said he felt their support even at the Iowa tryout. Returning to school Monday "they all congratulated me, and it was an awesome feeling."
His first family -- father Scot, mother Kerri -- was amused that first time Begovich walked through the door and announced he'd followed up two-a-day football practice with cheerleading practice.
"They're like, 'Holy cow, really?'"
But when Mike made St. Charles North's competitive team, Scott Begovich felt it was something his son could do in college. Mike certainly had the support of Kerri, a former high school cheerleader.
"It was great to do something that she did," Mike Begovich said. "I don't know how many other people want to do what their mom did, but it was an amazing experience to be able to do that."
Augustana sophomore Kim Sawyer, Batavia Class of 2010, is making hay. On Wednesday she was named the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin women's tennis player of the week a second time this season after going 2-0 at No. 1 singles over Wartburg and Monmouth and adding two doubles wins.
Having won 8 of her last 10 matches at No. 1 singles and with two regular-season matches left, Sawyer's record stands at 25-6 on the year. She is only 4 wins away from tying her own Augustana record for season victories, 29 as a freshman.
Her 25 singles wins this season tie for fifth on Augie's season list, and her 54 career wins have her just outside the top 10 for a career. A two-time all-CCIW player, Sawyer's overall record combining singles and doubles is 87-37. She's 54-13 in singles, 33-24 in doubles.
At Metea Valley's boys track invitational last Saturday, St. Charles North senior Oshay Hodges engaged Marmion's Pete Stefanski in a battle for the high jump title. Hodges joined the competition at 6 feet, 1 inch while Stefanski came in at 6-3.
Both cleared those heights, and the bar went up to 6-5. Stefanski, the eventual winner at 6 feet, 7 inches, made his first attempt. Hodges missed his first try at 6-5, and he missed his second.
North Stars jumps coach Kevin Harrington strolled over to speak with him. Harrington wanted Hodges to lift his approach knee and arm to help propel him over the bar.
Harrington also spoke with the St. Charles North boys sitting and watching Hodges do his jumps. He asked them to clap, in rhythm, just before Hodges took off on his approach to the bar.
The boys clapped, Hodges took off, and cleared the height and also cleared 6-7 though Stefanski had the overall edge due to less misses.
Later, in triple jump, Hodges got the same sort of rhythmic applause to help him win by surpassing 44 feet.
"Honestly, it helps him a ton," Harrington said. "It helps him not to think so much."
Catching up with Catherine Allon
"I can't say enough good things about her," Geneva girls soccer coach Megan Owens said about this four-year varsity starter, two-time team captain and reigning team MVP.
A forward and center midfielder headed to Xavier University in Cincinnati on scholarship, in 2011 Allon earned all-Upstate Eight and all-sectional honors by leading the Vikings with 12 goals and 9 assists. Already this season she's scored 11 goals.
Born in California to a couple originally from New Jersey -- former high school baseball player Kevin and mother Meredith, who played lacrosse for Rutgers -- Allon began with park district soccer when she was 3, after arriving in Geneva. Through her sophomore year she'd tried her hand at cross country, track and basketball before focusing on soccer, including the Fox Valley Strikers club team. After considering Davidson College and Elon University, both in North Carolina, she committed to Xavier in December of her junior year.
Q: Why Xavier?
A: I loved the campus. I think the size of the school is perfect for me, not too big and not too small. And the coach (Woody Sherwood) is absolutely great, he works really well with the players and I think they have a really well-developed program.
Q: What was the craziest thing you did on your official visit? C'mon, you can trust us.
A: Probably watched a movie. We just stayed in the room because they had a game the next morning.
Q: Did you think your soccer career would reach this point?
A: I always knew. I never wanted to give it up, and I always knew I wanted to play college soccer. I knew I wanted to go Division I. I never wanted to be laid back in college. I just wanted to be with soccer as much as possible. Yeah, I thought I'd stick with it.
Q: What's your favorite move on the field?
A: I would have to say probably the scissors. It's just like a quick, little step over the ball and then you move it with the outside of the foot. Usually the defenders fall off to the opposite direction and you end up getting by them.
Q: What do you consider your top achievement?
A: I think just learning how to play with a team and getting so close to everyone, just working. I really enjoy team sports, working together as a team, feeling so accomplished after a huge win ... and knowing that I put forth as much as I could into something that means so much to me.
Q: Despite all your experience, do you still get nervous out there?
A: Yes, I get very nervous before every game. I have a lot of superstitions but usually I don't overcome them till I step on the field. Once the ball is kicked off and the game's under way usually they just disappear.
Q: Superstitions are fun. What are yours?
A: Before a game I always have to tape my shinguards a certain height. I wear my shinguards really high, usually I get in trouble for that. And when we play keep-away before games I always have to wear a "penny," that's another one.
Q: Ever receive a red card?
A: I don't think so, now that I think about it. I've gotten a couple yellows, but I've never gotten a red card.
Q: What's your least favorite class, and why?
A: Spanish. It does not connect with me. I have trouble showing interest in that class. I struggle learning new languages.
Q: Yo comprendo. Speaking of new languages, how many text messages did you send last month?
A: Ooh, wow. I could ask my mom, she's standing right here ... She just said too many. It's probably an embarrassing amount.
Q: What did you dress up as last Halloween?
A: I was a Field Fairy. Sometimes they call soccer players that, so I wore a soccer penny, soccer shorts and wings.
Q: What would you say is a defining characteristic about you?
A: I think I'm a very outgoing person. I don't really ever not want to meet new people. I'm always very open and always wanting to make new friend. I never really hold anything in. I always like to be around people, make people laugh.
Q: You'll get opportunities at Xavier. But why do you like soccer so much?
A: I play soccer because I love the team idea. I love having control of the ball at my feet, being able to connect with others, and score goals.