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Monday, February 14, 2005

Pro Bowl Jill 

Posted by James at 9:43 AM ET

The Pro Bowl may be over but here at the NFL Cheerleader Blog we aren't done celebrating the Pro Bowl Cheerleaders.

Jameson Cook of The Macomb (MI) Daily the story of the hometown girl who is Jacksonville's Pro Bowl representative.

Jill Cottingham noticed that lulls in the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day football game at Ford Field could have been filled with entertainment, such as cheerleading or dancing.

Cottingham, 27, a Macomb Township native, is a dancer for the National Football League's Jacksonville Jaguars, and brought a fellow Jaguar performer with her to the holiday game last November.

"I noticed a big difference in the flow of the Lions game and our games (in Jacksonville)," Cottingham said. "There's entertainment at our games throughout the game. This year they added a drum line to every game and it's been great. I realize that football is a sport, but the NFL is also about entertainment. I think it would be a good thing for the Lions to have."

She added with a laugh: "Maybe I can come back up there and can work on getting cheerers at Lions games."

The Detroit Lions is one of a handful of NFL teams that does not employ cheerleaders or dancers, and in the past have had high school cheerleaders perform at games. Some Lions fans have said they would like to see dancers at the games since the games have frequent pauses in action, often due to TV commercials.

Cottingham was selected by her fellow team members to dance and cheer Sunday at the National Football League Pro Bowl game in Hawaii, to be shown at 7:30 p.m. today on ESPN.

"She is one of our four captains and a great leader," said Christy Zynda, dance team coordinator. "She is a shining example of someone who balances her life."

Along with cheering for the "Jags," she works full time as a pharmacist at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonsville. She earned a doctorate of pharmacy degree at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla., in 2000.

Cottingham for four years was a cheerleader at Chippewa Valley High School, from which she graduated in 1994 and was class valedictorian. She is the daughter of Sherman Cottingham of Macomb, a retired Mount Clemens Community Schools administrator.

Upon graduation, she said wanted to leave Michigan and discovered Florida A&M had a good pharmacy school.

"I always liked math and science, and pharmacy is a good way to use both of them," she said.

Once she started working, after attending college for six years, she said she realized: "There must be more to life then going to work, coming home and going back to work the next day."

So she auditioned for the Jags' dance team five years ago but got cut. The next year she earned the first-alternate post, and when another woman dropped out, she was added. She has completed her fourth season.

She said she had to learn how to dance, not just cheer.

"When I was a little girl, like all other little girls, I took dance lessons, like ballet," she said. "I learned you had to have a lot of endurance."

Zynda, her coach, said Cottingham's upbeat personality, positive attitude, work ethic and skills got her the part-time gig.

Now as a 4-year veteran and one of the four captains on the 33-member team, she leads a line of dancers at each game.

"She's developed into a wonderful dancer and is dedicated to improving every day," Zynda said.

She said she was honored to be selected to dance at the Pro Bowl.

"It's such an honor because it comes from them," she said. "I'm doing my best to represent them."

This past week, she and the 24 cheerleaders from the other teams have been preparing for the game, practicing 10 hours Tuesday in a hotel ballroom and Thursday at the stadium. She has gotten to know the others, and they have enjoyed the great weather and participating in special events, she said.

Besides games, she has traveled with The ROAR to entertain U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Thule Air Base in Greenland.

Cottingham pointed out that although the women are dancers, they want to "break the stereotype." Many of them have successful careers. The ROAR members are teachers, nurses and college students, and there's an attorney and physical therapist. Others are full-time mothers. One of the Pro Bowl cheerleaders is a Navy pilot.

Cottingham last Sunday attended her first Super Bowl, and she was involved in several events during the week preceding the big game, as part of The ROAR.

She said she would like to see the Jaguars and maybe the Lions clash in next year's Super Bowl, to be held in Detroit.

"My heart is with Jacksonville, but there's a deep part of me that's with the Lions, too," she said. "I would definitely have to go back for that."