The Orange High School cheerleading team keeps the crowd energized during Friday night football games. Yet what often catches the attention of fans on both sides of the stadium is the lone male on the Orange squad, Mason Fleshman, displaying his jumps, tumbles and showmanship.
Mason, 15, from Woodmere, joined the varsity team this year after being on the junior varsity team his freshman year. The 10th-grader said joining a squad dominated by girls has not been intimidating.
“There were those who would just look at me like I was an alien, like I’m not supposed to do it,” Mason said during a recent practice session. “But in the end, it turned out to be better for me.”
Though the cheerleading sport is co-ed, the majority of public high school squads in the area are all girls.
Mason said that he is amused by the crowd’s facial expressions. The crowd starts off looking quizzical and hesitant, he said, but seems to be drawn by his confidence by the end of the game.
Initially other cheerleaders questioned if he was going to dedicate himself to the sport.
“I’m the type of person who takes judgment and says, ‘Well, I’m going to have to change their minds,’” Mason said.
Orange resident Ashley Shagrin, 17, a senior member of the cheerleading team, is happy to have Mason on the varsity squad. She said that his confidence and tumbling have improved.
“I just wanted to make sure that he took it seriously and knew that it was a real sport,” Ashley said. “He was so serious, he got extra help and learned the dances. He tries so hard.”
Mason proved himself to be more talented than anyone expected, said cheer coach Lauri Ross, 50, of Orange.
“Watching his improvement from the start of freshman year to the end, he earned that varsity spot. He did incredible,” Ms. Ross said. “He improved all his skills and he’s only a sophomore.”
Ms. Ross said that Mason has significantly improved his tumbling, motion technique, jumps and showmanship, including his cheer voice and confidence in front of a crowd. Ms. Ross recalls an away game last year when Mason tumbled down the basketball court at a time out, and both teams, the home crowd, and away crowd were cheering for him. Ms. Ross thought to herself, “This has never happened at a game before.”
Mason said practice at school and home was key to his improvement. He also enrolled in a tumbling class at Jump Start Gymnastics in Beachwood, where a former Orange cheerleader volunteered her time to help Mason. Most cheerleaders have had prior experience in gymnastics, but Mason had none. Now Mason spends time at a gym called Rockstar Cheer Cleveland in Solon to improve his technique.
Ms. Ross said that one of the most unique characteristics about Mason is that he takes all of the critiques and suggestions that are given to him. She credits much of Mason’s advancement to his willingness to take advice.
“Anything we try to correct or help him improve, he takes it and works on it. That takes a lot of maturity,” Ms. Ross said. “If we correct something, he comes back to the next practice and he has it.”
Mason attributes his success to motivation from his family, friends, coaches and fellow cheerleaders. He said that he loves cheer because there are multiple things that a cheerleader has to do at once, including smiling and having spirit, keeping his motions tight, and performing jumps and tumbles.
“You always have to be happy, and I think that connects to my own personality,” Mason said.
Mason’s advice is that if you feel like you can’t do something, always remember that you can. He encouraged people to pursue their dreams and be happy.
Mason and the Orange cheerleading team will be at the next home football game on Friday at 7 p.m. at 32000 Chagrin Blvd. in Pepper Pike.