Hawkins transitions from Marine to cheerleader


Photo by Point Park University Cheer and Dance Instagram

Cheer team members Benjamin Hawkins (Left), Kenny Sickles (Right) and Emily Kirsch pose for a photo after the Concordia Dual Competition on Dec. 9.

Written By Dara Collins, Co-Sports Editor

Benjamin Hawkins used to lift weights during Marine Corps Recruit Training and now he lifts his teammates. His plans have changed to teaching students instead of military officers. The Bethel Park native has completed his fair share of travel before returning close to home to follow his true passions.

Hawkins claims to be athletic but never participated in a sport during high school. That changed while roaming Point Park’s organization involvement fair during the spring semester of his freshman year, when he joined the Competitive Cheer and Dance Team.

“One of the girls kind of buttered me up a little bit…so I decided I’ll join,” Hawkins said. “If it’s cool, it’s cool. If it’s not, whatever. But I did it, and I really fell in love with it.”

While Hawkins considered wrestling in high school, multiple reasons steered him away from the sport. Hawkins, a back spot for the cheer team, finds an immense amount of support and close friends within the cheer community.

“Everybody’s really cool, and we all have deep personalities,” Hawkins said. “It’s not shallow as you would think – ‘Bring It On’ type girls. I really found sisters and brothers in it.”

Hawkins’ teammates appreciate his positivity.

“You will never catch Benny without a smile on his face,” junior Alexis Diaz-Albertini said. “He radiates positivity and always encourages [the cheer and dance] teams to keep pushing forward and to always give 115 percent in everything we do.”

Hawkins acknowledges he did not choose the most traditional sport.

“I’m an anomaly,” Hawkins said. “There’s not a lot of guy cheerleaders, as you could imagine, and there’s not a lot of guys being brought on to Point Park’s team yet.”

Likewise, the 25-year-old elementary education and special education student viewed himself as an anomaly in the school setting.

“I thought people are going to judge me, people are going to think I’m the old guy, but after my first semester, I found a lot of love within the campus and the people accept people,” Hawkins said.

Sophomore and fellow elementary education and special education student Gillian Saccameno has shared a few classes with Hawkins.

“Benny is always the kindest person,” Saccameno said. “He just always seems willing to help someone.”

The Bethel Park High School graduate decided to attend the university in 2016 after four years of military service. Hawkins joined the Marine Corps straight out of high school on Aug. 8, 2011.

“How you know when you find your passion or when you’re in a really good relationship, and everything just seems right, that’s how the military felt to me,” Hawkins said. “This is my path, and this is the thing that I was meant to do.”

As a combat engineer, Hawkins described himself as “one of the guys with metal detectors finding improvised explosive devices (IED) and other bombs.”

During his service, Hawkins found himself in Parris Island, S.C., Okinawa, Japan, Quantico, Va., Thailand, Australia and the Philippines. Upon his arrival to Japan, Hawkins’ captain informed him that no more men would be sent to Afghanistan.

“It was kind of bittersweet,” Hawkins said. “I was excited that I didn’t have to do that, but at the other end, you’re kind of built up to that point to expect that.”

Following Hawkins’ discharge on Aug. 6, 2015, he then considered becoming a state trooper before ultimately deciding to attend Point Park.

“Military in its core is a lot of Republican influence and a lot of bullheaded people, but I feel like at Point Park we’re a lot more democratic and liberal, so it’s nice to see those almost conflicting pathways and see where I fall in the middle,” Hawkins said. “It helped me become more of a complete person.”

At first, the intelligence and national security degree caught Hawkins’ attention. However, he went with his gut and chose an education degree.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, but there’s always that stigma like you’re not going to make enough money or there aren’t jobs out there,” Hawkins said. “But this is something I want to do. If I had a million dollars, this is the job that I would love to do.”

However, Hawkins finds himself at a crossroad once again.

Hawkins is qualified to become a state trooper due to four years of military service under his belt. He has considered pursuing the career while maintaining his teaching certifications by substituting once a month. Hawkins even plans to remain working within the school system at his leisure after retirement.

“I see both paths equally as amazing, and they have their pros and their cons, so I just have to find within myself where I really want to be,” Hawkins said.