Thursday, January 10, 2008

Life as NFL cheerleader isn't always glamorous 

Posted by Sasha at 3:36 PM ET

Commentary by Carrie Cecil
Special to The Tennessean
Wednesday, 01/02/08

Sunday night when the Titans clinched postseason play, I think every Titans' wife breathed a collective sigh of relief, followed by putting away that little black dress we planned on wearing New Year's Eve.

Call me crazy but I wasn't even nail-biting when I saw our quarterback jog into the locker room with a limp. In my heart I had faith and believed that Kerry Collins would lead us to victory.

Although there were no clinking glasses, streamers or balloons falling Monday night as our dates were working late into the night, I personally know none of us would want it any other way.

Football 101

As much as we consider ourselves to be a generation that embraces change, equality and reconciliation, I think within us all there is still sometimes a silly stereotyper. This never rang more true for me than when I set out to talk with the Titans cheerleaders.

I'll admit at the game I spy them with my binoculars. But as a saggy married mother, there was also a certain predisposed judgment that came with my awe and wonderment.

After working in the entertainment business I've seen all types of folks, so I am not easily surprised. But these ladies — and I use that term intentionally — did indeed surprise me.

Last spring more than 200 young women auditioned for Titans Director of Cheerleaders Stacie Kinder to join the 35-woman roster. They were judged on dance ability, physique, crowd appeal and appearance. Stacie also interviewed each candidate.

Each applicant must have a career or be a full-time student and ideally have a college degree. The young women who made the cut reported to training camp in May for five days a week of choreography, physical training, etiquette and appearance workshops and media training.

This year's squad includes a career woman in real estate, a counselor for the Tennessee Mental Health Court, a regional manager for the Universal Cheerleaders Association and a neuroscience graduate who works in molecular research for Vanderbilt.

These mothers and wives keep high profile careers rolling while serving as ambassadors for the Titans on the field during games and throughout the community year round.

Before home games the cheerleaders rehearse two days a week in three-hour sessions. They arrive at the field four hours prior to kickoff for on-field rehearsal and pregame obligations.

Off the field they must maintain moral standards by following a strict behavioral handbook, and they are not allowed to fraternize with the team.

Each cheerleader is also required to donate 10 community service events per season. This season they brought smiles to kids and adults from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Tennessee School for the Blind, Down's Syndrome Association, Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation, Nashville Rescue Mission, Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, the U.S. Military, VA Hospitals, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and numerous schools within Nashville and the surrounding counties.

If that weren't enough to squash any stereotypes, Stacie gave me the test that each young lady must pass before making the squad. It has questions on grammar, history, politics, current events as well as football and the Titans.

Grading my answers, she looked up with a "sorry-maybe-next-time" smile, and I knew I hadn't met the squad's high kicking standards.

Woman behind the Titans

A former dancer with the Washington Ballet, Kinder has been with the Titans four seasons. Managing 32 women she wears many hats: teacher, motivator, role model, mother, big sister, businesswoman, counselor and advisor.

Besides choreographing and teaching all of the routines, Stacie is responsible for the squad's media relations, Web pages, branding, sponsor development, nonprofit and paid appearance booking, and the team's search for new talent.

The University of Virginia graduate and mother of two has many professional and dance accomplishments, including co-founding Patriot Cheer & Dance, a company that specializes in cheer and dance training, competition and special events. She has choreographed and danced in several music videos and in various television programs.

"This is what I was born to do," Stacie told me. "My job allows me to combine my strengths in business, marketing and management with my creative side that has been a dancer for almost 30 years. Only 25 jobs like mine exist in the entire country and I am thankful everyday that I have one of them."

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