Saturday, January 29, 2022 Jan 29, 2022
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Football

A Former NFL Cheerleader Goes Behind the Boots of Making the Team: Episode 5

Not everyone makes the cut on their first—or even second—try. But once they do, veteran mentorship plays a big part in how rookies survive.
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Every cheerleader's road to the big stage is different. Not everyone makes it on the first try. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the fifth week of training camp on Making the Team, and eight cuts still need to be made before the final squad is chosen. The returning veterans have practically secured their spots on the team, so it comes down to the 18 remaining rookie candidates to prove they deserve a spot. At this point, it’s all about who can show they have the DCC performance style. 

A moment during this week’s episode really resonated with me; three of the fifth-year veteran leaders met with the rookie candidates to share their guidance for perfecting the DCC style. Veterans play an important role in mentoring the rookies. They know how to make subtle dance moves look big, walk a certain way on the field that looks sexy and confident — basically, all of the tricks to ensure that everyone matches while performing. Every team has their own dance style, and a huge part of maintaining that style goes beyond the directors or choreographers. It is up to the veterans and leaders to ensure the rookies know what to do. 

My first year cheering, the best advice I received was to “be a sponge.” I was already a good dancer, but there were so many intricacies of performing like a professional cheerleader that I had no idea about. I learned that there’s a specific way to stand on the field (your feet are in ballet third position with your hands on your hips), just as there’s a certain way to shake or “fluff” your poms (rolling your wrists towards yourself in a circular motion). There are tricks to flipping your hair so it stays out of your face while dancing, a specific way to end sideline routines, and so much more. Those first few months I would just listen, watch, and absorb everything said and shown by the directors and veterans. 

Once I became a veteran, I realized how important it was to be a good leader and role model to the rookies. My success as a cheerleader stemmed from what I learned from the veterans before me, so I made a conscientious effort to pay it forward each year. Ultimately, everyone benefits: offering them support and guidance from day one helped make the entire team cohesive and better as a whole. 

Back to the show: former DCC Maddie also made a surprise appearance to talk to the rookies about her journey to make it on the team. It wasn’t easy; she was cut from training camp in her first year auditioning. As devastating as that was, she later understood that it wasn’t her year to be on the team. She ended up making the team the next year and went on to cheer for five years along with becoming a group leader, which is DCC’s version of a captain. My journey was similar to Maddie’s. It wasn’t until my third time auditioning that I finally made that team. 

The first time I auditioned, I didn’t even make it past the first round. I had taken a break from dancing for a few years and thought I could jump back into things easily — I was wrong. After realizing it was going to take more effort than I thought to be a cheerleader, I began training to get myself into better shape and took some prep classes offered by the team before auditions. The next year I auditioned, I made it all the way to finals, only to not hear my name get called when they announced the final squad. Even though I didn’t make the team that year, I was given the opportunity to join their ambassador team, a non-dancing team associated with the cheerleaders that did promotional appearances for the organization.

Being an ambassador was basically a stepping stone to becoming a cheerleader. Through that program, I was able to get my foot in the door within the cheer organization so that, by the third audition, I finally made the team. I truly believe that the year I officially became a cheerleader was my time and the right time to be on the team. I ended up cheering for five years — including two as captain — and represented our team as the Pro Bowl cheerleader my final year. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if I made it on my first try.

One cheerleader got cut this week, and before I’m done writing this series, I’ll watch seven more women get cut, too. There are hundreds more in their position across the other 31 NFL cities. It may sound cliche, but in some ways, it’s as simple as it just wasn’t their year. Everyone has their own path, whether they’re in from the start or it takes them some time like it did for Maddie and me. There’s only one thing I know is true: each woman who does make this team is meant to be there this year.