“Open up the barnyard, kick out the hay,
“We’re the girls from the U-S-A.
“Turn on the radio, who do you hear?
“Elvis Presley doing our cheer.
“We’re gonna F-I-G-H-T, we’re gonna F-I-G-H-T, we’re gonna F-I-G-H-T.
“We’re gonna fight tonight!”
Sound familiar? It might if you attended a Colts game featuring the Colts’ junior cheerleaders.
It was just one of the cheers Brandi Martin, 11, Amanda Matula, 11, Taylor Young, 9, and Melia Ficcara, 13, learned at the most recent Colts Junior Cheerleading Program.
The Colts Junior Cheer program enables girls to experience what it is like to be Colts cheerleaders. Professional cheerleaders guide the girls through a season of practice and drills, which then culminates in at least three performances at home games during the Colts’ regular season. Every year up to 300 girls, ages 7 to 14, participate for $345, which includes their own Colts cheerleading uniform and pompons.
Some girls, like Amanda, became interested in the program after seeing the juniors perform. “I decided to cheerlead because I’ve never really done it and I thought it would be fun,” she said.
Others learned about it through family and friends. All were enthusiastic about the program, whose purpose is to bolster individual abilities and reinforce cheerleading fundamentals.
Preparations for the performances begin at home with videos demonstrating choreography that participants can study and practice. Then, the entire squad convenes for practice sessions at the Colts practice facility on the city’s Westside.
During practice sessions, which last up to two hours, the Colts cheerleaders lead and assist the girls in mastering the routines. While practices are not as physically challenging as All-Star or even high-school cheerleading, which require lots of jumps and athletic movements, pro cheerleading has unique demands.
For example, routines can be complicated, not only because of the movements required, but because of the number of participants involved.
“It’s not that easy because you have to like remember each one of your cheers, and then you have to remember what group you’re with and where you’re at,” said Amanda.
Brandi added, “It’s not as easy as people think it is. You might think it was easy at first, but then after you keep on going and getting more experience, it gets harder.”
Correct timing also can become a problem when routines are complicated, with different cheerleaders doing different moves.
“If you see somebody else, normally you just want to do that like at that time, but sometimes you have to wait and do it on your turn,” explained Amanda.
And then there are unexpected routine changes, which happen not infrequently.
“I would say that our practices, they’re fun. But they can be hard too because they can switch the dance once we’ve learned it,” Melia said.
Cheerleading in general has helped the girls become more social and outgoing.
“I wouldn’t talk to anybody because I was really shy. But after I did cheerleading I got new friends and I got more talkative and talk to everybody now,” Amanda said.
The other girls agreed that they also had become more extroverted. Because of the program, Brandi said she agreed to appear on TV, and Taylor said she no longer fears singing in front of crowds.
Still, the girls admitted being nervous before their on-field performances, except for Brandi, who has participated for three years.
“After the years went on, it’s been really fun and I haven’t been that scared at all. I’ve just been like, ‘OK, let’s go perform,’” she said.
For Amanda and Taylor, both first-timers, it was downright terrifying.
“I wouldn’t like to be caught on the big screen and everybody see you mess up,” Amanda said.
The program involves more than just cheerleading. The girls participate in philanthropic events throughout the season, such as SACKing Hunger and Soles4Souls, just as the Colts cheerleaders do.
“We get to collect money for charities. And then we collect books and we collect shoes and toys and stuff,” Melia said. “It helps other people.”
The girls learned a few life lessons from their mentors as well.
Melia says cheerleader Cassie “taught me you can do whatever you want to do and that you need to work hard and it’ll turn out great,” she said.
Taylor also appreciated encouragement from LeAndra. “She’s taught me to not be really shy, just be open and be yourself,” she said.
While the girls are uncertain if they want to make cheerleading a career, they all agree it is a great hobby.
“I would recommend it to other people because it’s a great experience. It’s fun,” Melia said.
Reporter Priya Mirmira, 13, contributed to this story.
Copyright 2010 Y-Press