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Monday, December 15, 2008

For the love of the game 

Posted by Sasha at 5:28 PM ET

Michelle Willard, Staff Writer
Murfreesboro Post
December 14, 2008

Tennessee Titans cheerleaders have to be two things – beautiful and smart.

“First, they have to look amazing in their photographs,” Director of Cheerleading Stacie Kinder said. “They also have to be smart, because they are representatives for the Titans organization. They’re surrogates for all of us.”

Kinder isn’t kidding about how smart the women are. One is a Vanderbilt graduate and neuromedicine researcher on her way to medical school. Two others are master’s students. One, in particular, is a pre-med student at MTSU and Rutherford County native.

“It’s an accomplished group of women,” Kinder said, adding this is typical for NFL cheerleading squads.

Ally, 19, the MTSU student and Rutherford County native, is in her rookie year as a Titans cheerleader and her junior year working toward a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry with plans to enter medical school after graduation.

“I got really lucky this year,” she said. “I love watching the games, and it’s fun being on the sidelines.”

Ally cheered and lived all over Rutherford County, putting in time at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary, Walter Hill Elementary, Thurman Francis Magnet and La Vergne High School.

“I cheered in middle school and my freshman and sophomore years in high school,” Ally explained. She didn’t cheer her junior and final year in high school because she was busy going to classes at night to finish a year early.

She said she knew in high school she wanted to pursue medicine as a career and only needed two classes to graduate early. So she worked hard and headed off to MTSU while her friends were still in high school.

Making the team

Ally comes from a football family.

She grew up watching football on Sundays and her family became Titans season-ticket holders in 1999.

“I didn’t like it so much,” she said about those football Sundays when she was young, “but now I really, really enjoy it.”

And it was this newfound love for the game that inspired her to try out for the cheerleading squad.

She talked to her parents about it last year and they encouraged her to apply. But she decided to wait.

Before this record-setting season began, Ally decided to take her chance and applied for the squad.

“This year I applied and got a chance,” she said.

Ally went to The Bubble, the Titans practice facility in Nashville.

“It was full of women,” she said.

Kinder said the try-out process is a month long where prospects are judged on a kickline, dancing ability and appearance, as well as a face-to-face interview, which compromises most of their final score.

“I had never tried out for something so big,” Ally said. “It was fun, but I was nervous … because I didn’t know what to expect.”

For her the hardest part was learning a dance routine in 20 minutes and then performing it in front of the judges.

“I wasn’t used to that type of dancing,” she said, explaining it was mostly hip-hop.

Being a pro cheerleader

Ally may have cheered in high school, but it was her experience with dance, as well as her smarts, that got her a spot on the Titans squad.

“On the sidelines, it’s mostly dancing,” she said, adding cheering in high school was mostly yelling cheers and stiff motions to get the crowd into the game.

“I definitely had to adapt to how things are,” Ally said.

But all the work is worth it to have the best seats in LP Field, she said.

As well as cheering on the sidelines at home games, the Titans Cheerleaders also make personal appearances and do charity work.

“It’s great I love it,” she said.

Ally’s favorite part is making appearances because of the fans.

“The ones down the street from my house are the most fun,” she said. She described the excitement of the kids at the local Wal-Mart or the fans who win tickets at Kroger drawings.

For charity work, the women visit with U.S. troops or kids at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. They also do fundraisers from various local charities like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“We do a lot of work in the community, as well as cheering for the Titans at home games,” Ally said.

Practice makes better

When Ally isn’t busy studying for organic chemistry or calculus, or playing Trauma Center on her Wii, she’s practicing dance routines for the Titans cheerleading squad.

“We have 10 to 15 different dances on the sideline,” Ally said, adding the squad has six others for quarter breaks during games.

“They can call any of them,” she said, explaining any of the routines can be called at any time during games and the women have to know exactly what to do.

To get the routines down, the squad practices for three hours two or three times per week, including Fitness Fridays, when the cheerleaders have to run a mile under a certain amount of time and do some “hardcore working out,” Ally said.

“It’s time consuming, …” she said. “But all the hard work is worth it.”

A self-described perfectionist, Ally also spends some of her precious free time making sure she has the routines down pat.

“I strive for perfection,” she said. “I still practice on the weekend. … I still give it my all.”

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