HUDSON — Andrew McMenomy had powered through all the hard things he needed to do to earn a college scholarship.
When he wondered if he could do a back flip, he mustered up the courage and jumped. He landed it on the first try.
When he wanted to learn trickier moves — flips with twists and back handsprings — he taught himself through YouTube.
When his grade-point average sunk to 0.5, he overloaded his schedule to become academically eligible.
All that stood between the Hudson High School senior and a college tryout was one looming task that should have been the easiest of all.
His dreadlocks had to go.
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McMenomy needed to jam his summers full of class work just to escape middle school.
Family problems in ninth grade pushed him even further back. He passed only one class — with a D. McMenomy told his reading teacher, Laurayne Dola, that he didn't care what he did with his life, as long as he made money. Dola cried.
McMenomy's future began to flip as a sophomore through his love of sports. He tried football and enjoyed it, even though his low GPA kept him from participating in the end-of-spring jamboree.
"I loved practicing," McMenomy said. "I wanted to know what it feels like to play in a game."
On a whim, he and a friend went out for the cheer team, too. To compete, they had to execute a back tuck or back handspring. McMenomy and his friend raced to see who could master the moves first.
"I went home and just started doing it and doing it and doing it and doing it," McMenomy said.
With no money for formal training, McMenomy pulled up YouTube tutorials with step-by-step instructions on each trick. He'd study how to throw his hands back, then go in his backyard and do it himself. Again. And again. And again.
Then he'd advance to Step 2, until he was tumbling in front of school and flipping at the drug store.
"He just picks up everything so fast," Hudson cheerleading coach Melissa Caruso said.
Eventually, he started to pick things up in the classroom, too.
He crammed in extra courses to replace the ones he had failed. Hudson named him student of the month. The district honored him as the school's turnaround student. Last week, his teacher called his demonstrative speech on how to back flip one of the day's best.
By his senior year, McMenomy jumped a half-credit ahead of most of his peers. His GPA rose to 2.5. Not only was he finally academically eligible to compete; he was a co-captain and a top tumbler for the Best of Pasco co-ed champions.
"Once the music starts, you hear the crowd go crazy…" McMenomy said. "It's the best feeling ever."
McMenomy's talent impressed the coaches at UCF, a cheerleading powerhouse that's placed in the top four nationally every year since 2006. His grades weren't good enough for UCF, but Knights coaches connected him to Iowa Western Community College, where he can cheer and study athletic training for two years before finishing his education in Orlando.
Only one problem remained.
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McMenomy had been growing out his dreads for two and a half years, until they flowed past his shoulders. He washed and played with them for hours. He even posted selfies on dreadlockssite.com.
His coach wanted them gone.
No college coach would give a scholarship to a boy with hair like that, so Caruso refused to waste the money on a flight to a tryout in Iowa until the dreads were gone. McMenomy objected.
Two weeks before the trip, another teacher brought in scissors. McMenomy didn't even have time to prepare himself. The final ties to his troubled past tumbled to the ground.
"Gone," McMenomy said. "I was, like, shocked, for a good week."
He posted a new selfie online. A two-word response came quickly, from Jeff Snow, Iowa Western's spirit coordinator:
"It's years and years of work to get it to go like that…" Snow said. "It was one of those things that showed he was really serious about making another life change."
Two weeks later, McMenomy took the first airplane ride of his life to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the teen with little formal training spent two days flipping and twisting and springing for his future.
He made the team.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MBakerTBTimes.