By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Growing up in Athens, Ga., Sarah White and her family watched a lot of football. Her family moved to McAlester when she was 9, and White so loved football that when she reached junior high, she tried out for cheerleading.
Now a senior and captain, White has been a Lady Buff cheerleader for six consecutive years.
“It is such a rush,” White said Friday.
“Having the entire town — this is a small town — having literally the entire team staring out you, and literally being right next to the game, it’s such a thrill. You almost get to lead the game, like the attitude of it. Say (in) the game, we’re losing. We can influence the crowd, get them cheering. The boys hear that and it ups their spirits.”
White said her family moved here in 2005 because her father, Doug White, got a job as a HAZMAT instructor at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. With no family in the area, White said it was a difficult transition at first, but dance classes at Angie’s Dance Plus helped.
“I’ve been in dance since I was 3 years old, so I’ve done that all my life,” White said.
“It gives you friends as soon as you get here. It helps you be social and be involved in things.”
White still takes class at Angie’s. She also teaches tumbling and cheer.
White’s new social circle included fellow Lady Buffs cheerleader Taylor Burmeier. Burmeier previously danced for McAlester’s Pom squad, but this year switched to cheerleading.
“I helped in that decision,” White said, laughing.
“She’s one of my very close friends, so it’s just one more thing that we get to do together.”
White said she originally tried out for cheer because of she always loved performing. One of the team’s top girls — also called flyers — her seventh-grade year, White switched to base and backspot a year later and stuck with those positions through to her senior year.
“If I had to pick just between backspotting and basing, I’d rather base,” White said. “You have more control over the stunt.
“I didn’t like flying, though. It was scary. I definitely like my feet on the ground.”
After two years with the Jr. Buffs and coach Tamara Roberts, White tried out for varsity in March of her eighth-grade year.
“It was terrifying,” White said of that first varsity tryout.
“There is no other person (than Roberts), I don’t think, who could’ve prepared us better for that. Not only me, but I’m sure all the other girls would say that, too.”
The preparation worked, as White made the squad as a freshman and every year thereafter. White impressed varsity coach Ashlee Shumway enough to make White co-captain as a junior and captain as a senior.
“She’s been a great leader from the start, but this year as a senior, she’s one that I knew would step up,” Shumway said.
“She’s very outgoing, she leads by example, and sometimes as captain, you have to make tough calls. You’re almost like an extension of the coach. So sometimes I make decisions that aren’t very popular, but she does a really good job of always backing me, and she’s very respectful.”
White helped the Lady Buffs qualify for the 5A State Meet at Saturday’s regional meet in Bixby, the state competition taking place Saturday at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. But getting to be part of the football experience seems to drive White more than the competitive side of cheerleading, which may be why she also plays trumpet in McAlester’s marching band.
“I started that in sixth grade whenever I moved here,” White said. “I love music, I love playing my instrument, and it’s just another passion of mine.
Once she graduates, White said she wants to attend the University of Arkansas — a school not too far from her family but in the Southeastern Conference like the University of Georgia, her favorite team “other than the McAlester Buffaloes.” Already taking four college-level classes at Eastern Oklahoma State College in McAlester, White said she wants to become a nurse.
“I like to help people,” White said.
“Whenever I see people hurting or something like that, my first instinct is to go and help, and I’ve always been into science.”
Between school, Angie’s, cheer and marching band, White doesn’t have much free time. What she has, she said she spends with friends or with her family, especially enjoying going with her father to shoot at the Eufaula Rod & Gun Club in McAlester.
White wasn’t born in McAlester, but once she got here, she flung herself into McAlester’s football culture.
With such a broad range of experiences, few understand the Buffaloes and Lady Buffaloes like Sarah White.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.