By Julie Huss
---- — 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.
“He came to practice and everyone loved him,” Jordan said. “After that, he was serious about it.”
Jordan Daigle, 17, said Tom has a lot of drive.
“He wants to win more than anyone else in the world,” she said. “He’s a great teammate and friend.”
Senior Ashley Hillard has known Tom since middle school and said he’s the glue that keeps the cheer team together.
“Everyone screams his name at games,” she said. “Without him, it’s not the same.”
McCarty said everyone on her team always gives their best and works hard to earn their success.
“We are very happy and very proud of the kids,” McCarty said of her team. “We have tough expectations to meet and they certainly rose to the occasion. I am so proud and my heart is so full.”
She said knowing her five seniors are going leaving with so much success behind them makes her extra happy, especially following Sunday’s big win.
“Each of the coaches were in tears watching the seniors close out their journey on top,” she said. “They are an amazing and irreplaceable five-some. They are very talented and they work hard for me.”
McCarty said many younger athletes look up to Tom for his drive, his passion for the sport and for being a perfect role model. Boys who someday hope to be part of a successful cheer team can learn a lot from him.
“I’ve watched Tom for four years, I’ve watched his success,” she said. “He’s selfless and has that rare quality for wanting to leave the team better after he’s gone. He’s also literally changed the scope of New Hampshire cheerleading.”
For Tom, being part of a strong team and making great friendships is all part of the game. He will head to Texas Tech in the fall to study marketing and, he hopes, continue to cheer.
“My team looks up to me,” he said. “Being a boy, it makes you feel good.”