DERRY — Tom McCarthy stands out in a crowd and he likes it that way.
The Pinkerton Academy senior is the only male member of the school’s 23-member cheer/spirit team coming off Sunday’s big win at the Division 1 state varsity winter spirit team competition. It was the 16th state title Pinkerton has won and its seventh in a row.
Judy McCarthy said her 18-year-old son was a devoted soccer player until the cheering bug bit during his freshman year.
“His coach saw him tumbling in the fieldhouse after soccer practice one day and simply asked him to join the team,” she said. “The girls took him in and he hasn’t looked back.”
Pinkerton cheer coach Michelle McCarty remembered the day she first saw Tom do a back flip.
“He was a little guy and I said ‘I heard you tumble,’” she said. “He kicked off his cleats and threw a back flip for me. After that, he came to practice and he loved it.”
Tom said the sport has given him a lot of great friends and many skills.
“It’s a lot more than a lot of people think it is,” he said.
Being a member of the spirit squad involves long practices, endurance training, gymnastics and a lot of weightlifting. Athletes must have quick reflexes, have the speed of sprinters and be expert tumblers.
A normal routine can be about three minutes long and requires the team to be in top mental and physical condition.
Some of Tom’s teammates are his closest friends.
“Tom really brought cheerleading to a lot of different levels,” 17-year-old Jordan Toney said of her teammate.
She met him freshman year and urged him to try out for the cheer team after she found out he excelled on the gymnastics mat.