Saturday, July 14, 2007
By Jimmy Smothers
Hokes Bluff native Megan Gladden has experienced cheerleading at the highest level, now she is stepping up in the medical profession.
For the past year Megan has been one of 32 cheerleaders for the Tennessee Titans, something she describes as a "once in a lifetime" experience. It was exciting, something she would like to continue doing; but she is giving it up to enroll at UAB this fall in pursuit of a career in dermatology.
Megan cheered for the Eagles in high school, but when she enrolled at Samford University she was too busy in pre-med studies to committee to varsity sports. Then her senior year she heard about the Titians' audition.
"I decided to give it a shot," she recalls. "I had taught at cheerleader camps during the summers to make some money for college. That was in 2005 and the first round of auditions came on the same day as college graduation. I decided not to miss graduation day. But the next year (2006) when the auditions came around, I tried out."
She was selected and was part of the squad for one year, just now being replaced as the Titians have concluded auditions for 2007.
"Being able to dance and perform again; being able to cheer at the professional level was pretty intriguing," she said. "I wish I could do it all over again. Cheerleading was a great experience. I loved every minute of it. But I felt like I'd worked so hard in college to get into medical school that I needed to go for it while I had the chance."
Last week she moved her things from Nashville to Birmingham. She will also be getting married soon. Being able to dance and perform in front of 70,000 fans and a national television audience at every home game is the entertainment role of being a NFL cheerleader; but that is just one day a week.
"We were community ambassadors for the Titans' organization," said Megan. "We'd go out during the week, appearing at various booster and charity events in the Nashville and surrounding communities. That was a lot of fun, meeting the fans."
Contrary to what some people may think, cheerleaders don't get paid much.
"As one of the girls said one day, just because we're professionals it doesn't mean we get paid a lot," Megan said. "It was mostly something we did as a hobby; it was something we enjoyed doing. Sometimes we'd get paid for personal appearance. But with 32 girls, it was hard to get in on many paid appearances so those were few and far between.
"I don't know if I should say what we were paid, but it was less than $50 per game, I can tell you that," she said.
Megan was also a Music City Kitten this past season.
The Titians supplied the costumes, and there were a lot of perks from various sponsors. They also got big discounts on such things as hair styling and tanning. There were three levels of the auditions with two-weeks between the semifinal and final stages that gave those still in the running a chance to prepare both physically and mentally. They wanted to be in tip-top shape, making sure they could pick up on the dance routines. There were also workshops with one-on-one interviews, which were a big part of the final audition.
"The cheerleader coach wanted to make sure that the girls would get along well, that we would represent the Titans' organization well, and that we
would be able to meet people and talk to them because we would be out in the community so much. They wanted to make sure all the girls would present a good image for the Titans."
The squad Megan worked on included women from 18 years of age to the late 30s; it included single girls and married women, some with children. And they came from all walks of life. Some were physical therapists, law clerks, teachers, bankers, bakers and students. One woman was even an engineer for Nissan. Megan worked as a medical assistant in a dermatologist office. One of the girls had been on the dance team at the University of Alabama.
During the summer they practiced four days a week, but once the season began they practiced only twice weekly, Tuesday and Thursday nights.
"I don't know how some of them were able to do it all, keeping up with family, children, careers and cheering, too," Megan aid. "They were really dedicated, making all the appearances, games and practices; knowing they had a family at home waiting for them."
One of the most exciting experiences was the Titans Caravan where several players and cheerleaders would go to different locations to greet fans. She especially enjoyed the trip to Fort Campbell , Ky. , meeting the military guys and getting the VIP treatment on the army base.
Some of her best memories are being on the field at the games, especially when a friend from college would be in the game.
"That was pretty cool, seeing him out on the field playing when I was out there cheering," she said, referring to Cortland Finnegan, a Titan cornerback who had played college ball at Samford.
"The fans always acted like they loved us. They would ask us to throw them our pom-poms, but we couldn't do that. We'd get in trouble."
This fall Megan will continue to follow the Titans, perhaps reliving her experiences and wishing she was back on the field cheering. She plans to continue dancing.
"I was part of some Birmingham groups when I was in college that did the hip-hop and jazz, the kind of dancing that I enjoy," she said. "So I look forward to continuing that, just for workout purposes if nothing else."