While placekicker Niamh Larson is making history this fall as the first girl to play varsity football for Riverside-Brookfield High School, two boys are also defying gender stereotypes at RBHS. Senior Anthony Pope is the first boy to ever be in the color guard of the RBHS marching band and senior AJ Smith is a co-captain of the varsity cheerleaders.
Pope transferred to RBHS from Plano Senior High School in Texas last April. At Plano, Pope was in the color guard for a marching band which, unlike the RBHS band, competes in marching band competitions. Pope joined the RBHS color guard this year and has brought a whole new level of skill, creativity and showmanship with how he twirls, throws and catches the flag.
“He’s the best I’ve seen at RB in my four years,” said RBHS senior Mykayla Angshed, who is, along with Pope, a co-captain of the RBHS color guard. “He has such, like, technique that we’ve never seen and he’s been able to implement that in our team.”
Pope is featured in the band’s halftime show at home football games. During his solo near the end of the halftime show he throws the flag attached to a six foot flagpole up in the air and catches it seven times as he handles the flag almost like a baton.
Pope, who also plays drums, had a background in dance when he discovered color guard as a sophomore in Texas.
“I thought it was really cool how you can spin the flag and dance with it at the same time,” Pope told the Landmark. “And you can tell a story through the movement.”
Despite his skills being on a different level than the rest of the color guard team, Pope has fit in well. He encourages the other members of the color guard and offers pointers. He and Angshed choreographed the color guard halftime routine and have an excellent rapport.
Angshed said that Pope has been a great addition to the color guard, and not just because of his skill.
“He’s very passionate, very talented, so he’s such a good energy,” Angshed said. “He’s very energetic and super positive. He’s so passionate about what he does; he’s hard working, he’s a person you want to be around.”
Color guard faculty sponsor Dawn Lizak agrees.
“He’s enthusiastic and shares the limelight,” Lizak said.
Pope doesn’t think too much about being the only boy, and the first boy, in the RBHS color guard.
“Color guard really suits me,” Pope said. “Nobody ever bashed me for being in it.”
Angshed doesn’t think it’s that big of deal to have a boy in the color guard and she hopes other boys follow in Pope’s footsteps.
“Color guard is for all genders,” Angshed said. “It doesn’t add anything different.”
Smith was inspired to be a cheerleader by his sister Alexis, a 2021 RBHS graduate who was an RBHS cheerleader. He fell in love with cheerleading watching Alexis compete in cheerleading competitions.
“I fell in love with the sport,” Smith said.
Smith’s freshman year at RBHS was during remote and hybrid learning because of COVID. After his freshman year he decided to go out for cheerleading and went to tryouts the summer before his sophomore year. He almost chickened out.
“It was very scary,” Smith said. “I was so close to not going. My sister had to, like, tell me, like, AJ you’ve wanted this for a while, you’ve been talking about this. You’re going to love it.”
It was hard being the only boy at cheerleading tryouts. He didn’t know anybody and some of the girls thought it was strange that he was there.
“There were a couple stares during the first tryout,” Smith said.
Smith was initially concerned about what other people would think but he has overcome that and loves being a cheerleader.
“It was hard at first, like getting used to it, but now I love it,” Smith said. “It sets me apart from other people. I don’t let my insecurities get in the way of me enjoying the sport.”
He embraces his identity as a cheerleader.
“I’m not ashamed of it, I’m proud of it, to be a cheerleader, especially being the only guy who is a cheerleader,” Smith said.
Smith is a popular student who was selected by his classmates to be on the Homecoming Court this year.
Smith is a co-captain of the varsity cheerleading team along with Bridget Roudebush. He is not the first boy to be a cheerleader at RBHS but is the first in a long time. He thinks that there may have been two boy cheerleaders at RBHS before him.
He is so passionate about cheerleading that he coaches younger cheerleaders in the Bulldog Football and Cheer Association.
“I love it and I love that I get to spark the joy of cheer to other people like my sister did to me,” Smith said.
Smith said that he prefers competitive cheerleading competitions to cheering at games but really loves both. He is so enthusiastic and cheers so loud that he loses his voice after most every football game. He fits in well with his teammates and is totally comfortable with them and they with him. And now he even has a uniform that fits him and matches his teammates uniforms.
Smith wants to be a cheerleader in college.
After college Pope wants to coach a color guard team and Smith would like to coach cheerleading. If Smith does become a cheerleading coach he will be following in the footsteps of Chris Borzym, the late RBHS cheerleading coach who died last year.