Saturday, February 07, 2009
By Jeff Strait
Kansas City Star
Kansas City Star
Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleader Catherine Friends-Middleton never thought she’d be this warm in February.
Especially while cheering at the Chiefs’ final home game against the Chargers on Dec. 14. It was one of those dreary, cold games the Chiefs would end up giving away, and Friends-Middleton thought the only bright spot would be when one of the cheerleaders was announced to represent the Chiefs in the 39th annual Pro Bowl in Honolulu on Sunday.
So when the announcer said her name, Friends-Middleton didn’t immediately recognize it as her own.
“I couldn’t quite compute that it was my name that I was hearing,” said Friends-Middleton of Kansas City, North. A teammate had to push her forward, she said, before she realized that it was her face on the stadium Jumbotron.
“My gosh,” she remembers thinking. “I guess I’m going to Hawaii.”
Friends-Middleton will join two dozen other National Football League cheerleaders in Hawaii. There are only 26 total, because not every NFL team has cheerleaders. She was selected to represent the Chiefs cheerleaders based on votes from the cheerleading squad, director and other members of the Arrowhead stadium team.
The Sunday game, which pits the best players from the American Football Conference against their peers from the National Football Conference in the final game of the NFL season, will cap off a busy start to the year for Friends-Middleton, including an especially hectic two-week span that began in late January.
In addition to learning 13 new routines by covering everything from jazz to country music to hip hop, Friends-Middleton had to audition for a spot on the roster for next year’s cheerleading squad.
The tryouts, usually held in the spring, were moved up to January this year, and even for current cheerleaders, a spot on the team is never guaranteed. (Not to worry — she made next year’s team, too.)
“Each year I think it becomes a little bit more challenging maintaining that excitement and making sure you’re still passionate about it,” she said, “which I am.”
The busy schedule is comparable to the one she endures during the football season, when she balances long days as a public health nurse in Olathe with two three-hour practices during the week and a pair of four-hour practices on the weekend, in addition to the game itself.
“Game day is an eight-hour day for the cheerleaders,” she said.
Cheerleaders are required to have a full-time job or be full-time students, she said. It’s a different ballgame from when her mother, Connie Hoskins-Friends, cheered for the Chiefs from 1970-74.
At that time, cheerleaders couldn’t be married and the team was composed mainly of teenage girls from area high schools. Hoskins-Friends was 16 when she first made the squad.
“It’s incredible the routines that those girls do, compared to when I was cheering,” said Hoskins-Friends of Platte Woods.
“It’s really nice to see the transition.”
One of the benefits of being a Chiefs Cheerleader is the pair of season tickets that go with it, something that Friends-Middleton said her mom often takes advantage of.
“She does her cheers in the stands.” she said. “It feels really good to be able to share that with her. I know it wasn’t all that long ago that she was on that same field.”
Mom will be living vicariously through her daughter during the Pro Bowl. Friends-Middleton has already told her mom about the balmy 70-degree weather, the view from her ocean-side hotel room, and the busy week that’s kept her running from one event to another.
Friends-Middleton said she’d finally learned the 13 new routines, though she stayed up late the night before flying to Hawaii to feel good about them.
“I came through at the last minute Sunday night and stayed up until 3:30 a.m. making sure I knew them well,” she said Tuesday, a few minutes before running off to an eight-hour rehearsal, her first practice session of the week.