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Courtney: A Dozen Years of Cheerleading

In the spring of 1996, I made a decision that would change my life forever: auditioning for the Redskinettes (as we were called back then) seemed like the next logical step for me as a life-long dancer and a huge Redskins fan.

I had heard about auditions through two girls in my intermediate ballet class at George Mason University, and I decided to give it a try. Before I auditioned, one of my sisters claimed my Cowboys tickets--just in case I made the team!

Little did I know that I would still be on the sidelines (and she would still be in the stands) 11 years later.

That first audition process was exciting, and included a supplementary audition for the "Show Troop" which performed at local events and military installations.

I was thrilled to make the squad, and also to be named as the singer for the Show Troop! We had dozens of performances throughout the area that summer and into the season.

Entering my sophomore year of college at GMU, and already coaching a local high school cheerleading team, my life was getting busier and busier.

Before joining the squad, I had never been to a professional football game before, so stepping onto RFK Stadium in front of 40,000 fans for that first game in the fall 1996 was an unbelievable rush.

The season went relatively well, with the Redskins finishing 9-7. The team said goodbye to RFK with a 37-10 win over the Cowboys!

After that game, we all had to stay in the locker room until the crowds cleared out, because I think some fans were trying to take cheerleaders home as souvenirs!

I am very proud to say that I cheered at RFK, and got to experience that rockin' stadium firsthand.

With the spring of 1997 came a change in the director position for the cheerleaders, and I was apprehensive about auditioning. The pool of applicants was MUCH larger than the year before, and with so many unfamiliar faces, I considered throwing in the towel.

Luckily, the new director Donald Wells had faith enough in me to choose me for the 1997-98 squad. With Donald came more provocative and glamorous uniforms, more promotional appearances and more difficult choreography.

With the new stadium came piped-in music, and more than double the number of fans! The new stadium wasn't ready for the preseason, so we only had eight home games that year. Even with only eight games, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the team for a long time.

Each spring meant auditions for the upcoming season, even for the returning veterans on the cheerleading squad. I have successfully tried out and made the team for the past 12 years. Not to pat myself on the back, but it hasn't always been easy.

I have seen women come through prep classes and make it to the final round, only to be heartbroken when their number didn't get called. I have had teammates and close friends who didn't make the cut.

Auditions are always the hardest part of the season for me, as they signal change and uncertainty. Each year, the returning veterans who make the team gear up for the excitement of the next season, and the rookies begin their awesome journey.

Throughout the years as a Redskins Cheerleader, I have been on four international tours to perform for the men and women in our armed forces.

My favorite tour of all was my first in 1999. The members of the Variety Show (no longer called the Show Troop) flew to Hungary, Bosnia, Macedonia, and then received very exciting orders: We would be the first civilian troops allowed to land in Kosovo.

We were "choppered" in to three different camps throughout Kosovo, where we did our full show. In one of our Kosovo shows at Camp Bondsteel, after I finished singing "New York, New York," I asked if there was anyone in the audience that would like to sing for me for a change.

One very excited soldier hopped up onto the stage (that they had built the night before after hearing of our arrival) and started singing "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin.'" He wasn't a bad singer, but the best part came next.

Now, just imagine standing on a stage in the middle of nowhere with a few thousand soldiers staring up at you, and then they all join in singing. I felt like I was somehow transported into the movie "Top Gun." It was such a perfect moment, and one that I will cherish forever.

Multiple costume changes, pictures, autograph signings, hugs and handshakes later, I was awed at the response from the troops. These heroes were thanking us! It was fantastic to be part of such an emotional and rewarding experience.

I had always respected our military, but going on tour made me realize how much they sacrifice to preserve our way of life.

Going on my four tours involved visiting other countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Honduras, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Ecuador. It also involved landing on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, off-roading in Humvees, doing negative G drops in Blackhawk helicopters and meeting numerous high-ranking military officials.

These experiences will be with me for my entire life. I love re-living the memories with tour buddies, and telling the stories to anyone who will listen.

Going on tour has definitely been a highlight of my cheerleading career, as was being selected by my teammates to represent the squad at the 2001 and 2006 Pro Bowl games in Hawaii.

I think I am one of only three cheerleaders ever selected to go to the Pro Bowl twice, and the memories from Hawaii will be with me forever. I want to send a special shout out to "Team America" from 2006--you guys were a lot of fun!

Entering my 12th year as a Redskins Cheerleader, I can't help but reflect on my time as an NFL cheerleader with happiness. I have had the chance to experience so many things that I would never have seen, had I not been a member of this fantastic organization.

It's going to be difficult for me to hang up my poms once this season is over, but I know that the pride and tradition of the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders will live on forever.

See you on the sidelines!

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