CINCINNATI -- Time sure does fly when you’re having fun on the sidelines! I cannot believe my rookie season as a Ben-Gals cheerleader has already come to an end. It feels like I was just rolling up to the auditions to “give it a try.”
There have been so many memorable moments and great friendships that have developed over the past few months -- it’s hard to just list a few, but we’ll give it a go. Here are my top nine favorite moments as a Ben-Gal, in no particular order.
1. The tryout process
Most dancers/cheerleaders who have ever auditioned for a team can relate when I say that the process can be stressful. I went through the audition process quite a bit in college and decided to have a different mindset this time. In order to get through the nearly-two-week process for the Ben-Gals, I knew focusing on having fun would change everything.
Encouraging yourself and others truly enhances the experience and honestly is what got me through. Some of my best friendships on the team were made at auditions. There’s something about learning and growing together that overcomes a high-stress environment. Team veterans were willing to meet with hopefuls outside of auditions to help them be their best -- that’s a true reflection of our team dynamic, and I am extremely proud to be part of that.
2. Putting on the uniform (and boots!) for the first time
I started dancing/cheering at about 10 years old. Ever since, I have wanted to perform on a professional level. I always wanted those darn white boots, too! Most of my college teammates can attest to this. It’s not about wearing "cute" boots; it’s more about what they represent: being a pro.
A lot of people think we start practice when the season starts. We actually learn routines about a week or so after auditions in May. That schedule continues through the summer, and by the start of the season, most of the material is second-hand knowledge. The summer schedule can be challenging, with practices three times a week and Saturday morning practices, too. (Add in a full-time job and you’ll need a handful of naps.)
It’s easy to get caught up in the busy schedule and forget what’s actually happening, but the first time I put on the uniform -- and yes, those white boots -- reality started to set in. That’s when it hit me that I would be cheering on the Bengals.
3. My first game: “Thursday Night Football” vs. the Houston Texans
This was the first time I got to put those white boots to use! Although the outcome didn’t favor Who-Dey Nation, I had so much fun at the game. Cincinnatians are very loyal to their sports teams, and it’s pretty cool to be a part of that, especially because I’m not from here. It’s always rewarding when hard work pays off, and this game exemplified that for me.
4. Any and all appearances ...
My favorite part about being a Ben-Gal is meeting and interacting with the community on another level. There are so many opportunities to get involved through WCPO, but it’s nice to also do so in another capacity.
A couple of my favorite appearances were Bengals Family Day and Recess in the Stadium. I love meeting all of the dedicated fans who, despite challenging seasons, bleed orange and black.
That’s what makes our fan base so special.
Ben-Gals also gives us a platform to interact with young dancers and cheerleaders in the Tri-State. I remember being a young girl taking pictures with professionals. Now I get to encourage those girls and meet them.
It really makes my day and hopefully theirs, too.
5. … especially the Habitat for Humanity build
This was another favorite experience of mine. In November, my teammate Alyson and I got to join a Habitat for Humanity build in Cincinnati alongside some Bengals legends (Robert Jackson and Doug Pelfrey to name a few). I admire the hard work Habitat for Humanity does for people across the country, and it was so rewarding to partake in a project right here in our city.
6. “Monday Night Football” vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers
The energy in Paul Brown Stadium on “Monday Night Football” against the Steelers is loud, intense and downright awesome. The adrenaline you get from performing for that kind of crowd is indescribable. My dad is from Pittsburgh, so I’ve heard about this rivalry ever since I can remember, but being in the thick of it is a totally different beast. I love my Bengals, but I also love one particular Steelers fan who was in the crowd that night.
Yep, that’s my baby brother. He lives for the Steelers and was at the game, terrible towel in hand. Maybe Bengals and Steelers can get along after all.
7. Watching my teammate get engaged in our locker room
As if “Monday Night Football” isn’t eventful enough, Kristen -- one of our seven-year veteran Ben-Gals -- had to outdo herself. Well, technically her fiancé did. A post-game pep talk turned into a post-game proposal that we all witnessed. Lots of laughs, tears (of happiness!) and photos followed.
Kristen is our Pro Bowl cheerleader and will be heading to much-warmer Orlando, Florida, in a few weeks for the game! If you’re going to be in the stands, tell her hello!
8. Working and performing with the Junior Ben-Gals
One of the most beloved parts of our program is the Junior Ben-Gals. This is a fun mentorship program for young girls designed to build confidence and camaraderie through dancing and cheering. It gives them a chance to perform on the field in front of their friends and family. The Junior Ben-Gals learn material on their own and, closer to their big performance, practice with the Ben-Gals squad. We then perform together on the field during a regular-season game.
This program reminds me that people of all ages and walks of life can have so much in common. I loved sharing my passion for performing with these young ladies. They were a blast, even in the pouring rain!
9. Celebrating Christmas Eve with my teammates and family at Paul Brown Stadium
I’m from Florida and strongly dislike cold weather. I won’t say "hate," but that’s pretty close! Yet somehow our very, very cold Christmas Eve game was one of my favorites. I loved celebrating the holidays with my team on the field, and my family flew from Florida for their first game in the Jungle.
This was our "Fan Appreciation Game," and I was able to host a few fan-interaction segments in honor of the Bengals’ 50th season. That was a first for me, and I was honored to be a part of it.
It also was great to give the fans a win for our last game at PBS this season. Thank you to everyone who came to our games and braved the cold, rain or snow to support us. Fan Appreciation Game should be every game!
I'm so thankful to represent the Bengals organization and am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities it has presented so far. I love Cincinnati and am proud to call it my home away from home. (Just don't ask me to try the chili.)