(Bailey and I partner stunting at the Baylor v. Oklahoma game in 2005)
It was a hot and humid day in August 2005 when I first stepped foot on campus at Baylor University. I was a junior by that time, but my first two years of college were spent at Midland College in Midland, Texas. My reason for choosing to attend Baylor was clear at the time–I wanted a faith-based education and Baylor seemed like the right fit. By the time I arrived at Baylor, I hadn’t played football in three years. That’s because I injured my back after my junior year of high school. It was devastating at the time because I had always dreamed of playing college football. But upon the recommendation of an orthopedic surgeon not to play, those dreams were crushed.
Though my dreams were crushed, they never died; playing college football was something I could never let go of. Maybe it was because I had grown up watching my older brother play and always wanted to be just like him. Maybe it was because I had experienced success in the sport. All I know is that after three years of not playing, I made up my mind that I was going to resurrect my dream and just go for it (which has pretty much been my approach to life in general).
So, the semester before I arrived at Baylor, I began preparing to walk onto the football team. Part of that preparation involved weight training in order to get into playing shape. It was in the weight room at Midland College that I first encountered cheerleading.
The Midland College coed cheer squad was lifting weights one day while I was in the gym and before you know it, members of the squad were prodding me to “come try out.” My first thought was, “There’s no way in [you-know-what].” But, as they began to practice partner stunting (i.e., throwing girls in the air and sometimes holding their feet in one hand), I became increasingly intrigued. Mostly my competitive side wanted to know if I could toss those girls in the air with the same ease as the other guys. Noticing my intrigue, they asked if I wanted to try partner stunting. Unlike my earlier apprehensiveness to “trying out,” I did want to try partner stunting. So I did and loved it.
Before I knew it, I was tossing girls in the air and spent the next few weeks learning new stunts. I would try out and join the squad my last semester at Midland College. But, in my mind, my last day at Midland College would also be my last day as a cheerleader. After all, I was a football player and the two just didn’t seem to coexist.
After my last semester at Midland College, the summer before I arrived at Baylor, I made a commitment to myself and to God that I would not date for an entire year. The reason for my commitment at the time was that I wanted to focus on my studies and also deepen my relationship with God. That commitment, as you’ll see below, would be seriously tested and ultimately cause much heartache.
My first week at Baylor was extremely exciting and I immediately fell in love with the campus, my professors, and my classmates. Though I didn’t know exactly when the walk-on tryouts would be, I assumed there would be some sort of campus-wide announcement.
By the time the second week of school rolled around, no announcement had been made and I began to get anxious fearing I would miss the tryouts. So, I asked a member of the football program when the tryouts were scheduled. I was devastated when they told me the tryouts had already taken place, the first week of school.
Because of the sudden and unexpected turn of events, I decided to tryout for the Baylor Yell Leaders (Baylor’s coed cheer squad). Utilizing everything I had learned the semester before at Midland College, I tried out and made the team.
In early September 2005, I showed up for the first day of yell leader practice. As I was being introduced to the squad, out of nowhere this bright-eyed, bushy-tailed cheerleader popped up in front of me and extended her hand. She said: “Hi, my name’s Bailey McKissack! Welcome to the team!” I remember thinking Bailey had a great smile and a good handshake. But other than that, at that time, she was just another member of the team.
However, over the course of the next several weeks, Bailey began to really stand out. I loved the way she encouraged everyone and how she made each member of the team feel special. It also didn’t hurt that she could do two full twists while doing a back flip–her athletic ability was hot!
We spent the next couple of months seeing each other multiple times a week for practice and traveling across the Country to support the football team. During this time, I fell madly in love with Bailey McKissack. I remember laying in bed one day and thinking out loud to myself, “I’m going to marry this girl.” I was that smitten with her. But though I had these strong feelings, I never told Bailey how I felt for fear that it would violate my commitment to myself and to God. That decision, too, would cause much strife and much heartache. Though I never told Bailey how I felt, I tried to single her out and spend as much one-on-one time with her as possible, whether at practice or away at a football game.
On one occasion, while we were at a team dinner, the question was presented (probably by me) about soul mates, specifically whether we believed in them. I couldn’t wait for her answer. I guess I was secretly hoping she would say she believed in them while at the same time giving me a wink. I couldn’t have been more off the mark.
Instead, as Bay wrote above, she told everyone she didn’t believe in soul mates, but instead believed there were many people it could work with. As you can imagine, as in love as I was, I was heartbroken by her response. I think I spent the rest of dinner trying to convince her that soul mates existed. I even stooped as low as to argue that the Bible supported their existence and if she didn’t believe in them, she didn’t really believe in the Bible (I think I gave some weak Adam and Even analogy). I’m embarrassed now at how desperate I must have seemed. But I think it helps illustrate how head-over-heels I was for this girl. I think I was so upset that she didn’t believe in soul mates because, at the time, I believed she was mine. Later that night, we ended up sitting outside our hotel room talking for hours, though we never reached an agreement on the soul mate issue. Seems like I told everyone I knew I was crazy about Bailey, I just never told her. I told my parents, my friends, and I think the team figured it out on their own.
In November 2005, I was pledging a fraternity and needed a date to a fraternity event, so I invited Bailey as a “friend.” I think by inviting her as “just a friend,” I believed I could somehow avoid breaking my commitment not to date (as if God isn’t smarter than that). She said she would go with me on one condition. My heart starting racing in fear, because even though I had invited her as “just a friend,” I was hoping she wouldn’t say something like, “The condition is you have to promise there’s nothing to this and we’re just friends.” But she said nothing to that affect. Instead, she said, “I’ll go with you to your fraternity event, but you have to be my date to my sorority event.” Her sorority event was a country-western dancing event that was to be held that December. As you can imagine, I was beyond excited. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure I tried to play it off like I would go but that it was no big deal (typical guy, I know).
A few weeks before her event, and after she had already gone with me to mine, my feelings for Bailey were at an all time high. I think part of the reason they were is because I was starting to feel as though she was reciprocating those feelings. And, as you all read above, she was. I guess that’s why she called me one night in late November to talk.
My cell phone rang that night and when I saw it was Bailey calling, I immediately picked up. In typical Bailey fashion, she didn’t beat around the bush and said there was something she wanted to discuss. Hoping she was calling to tell me that she liked me, I sat on the other end eagerly awaiting the moment. She started off by saying how much she enjoyed my friendship, but that something had been on her heart for a while. She told me that members of our team were telling her that I liked her and that I was giving her special attention, etc. She said that she was confused because she, too, was feeling as though I was seeking her out. She wanted to know if there were any feelings there, or as I had said so many times before, “just want[ed] to be friends.” The way I saw it, in that moment, I had two options: (1) I could confess my feelings for her and throw my commitment out the window; or (2) I could be a man of my word and stick to my commitment. As I’m sure you all know, I chose option # 2. I told Bailey I just wanted to be friends and never told her about my commitment to God. The reason I didn’t tell her about the commitment is because I didn’t want to publicize my personal commitments to God as if to announce “Look at me, look how holy I am.” And as foolish as this may sound, I believed in my heart that no matter what, no matter if I said I just wanted to be friends, we would end up together. After that, our conversation ended.
Later that night, I got an email from Bailey telling me that her feelings for me had grown and that because I just wanted to be friends, she didn’t think it was a good idea for us to go to her sorority event together. Though I was heartbroken, I was dead-set on keeping my commitment and also dead-set in my belief that I would end up with her no matter what. As you all read above, she found a date and they were married a year and a half later–his name was Andrew Heard.