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AFC Retreat: A Prank For The Ages


The AFC retreat was the ultimate rookie experience.

I had the opportunity to learn about the remarkably intelligent and beautiful women that will be not only leading me, but also dancing beside me throughout this season. Inspiration was a common emotion I felt throughout the conversations during the various workshops and team meals. I have to say, these 19 veterans are a bunch of smart cookies; however, they seem to enjoy taking advantage of this brilliance, while leveraging it against us little rookies.

After a long Friday evening and Saturday morning filled with informative, yet brain-swelling information at the AFC retreat, us rookies stumbled into the ballroom of the hotel, clad in red in white, ready for our first team practice of the weekend. While our coach, cheerleader coordinator Chato Waters, went outside to take a phone call, our choreographer, Jakene Ashford, informed us that we would begin to clean our audition piece.

The room grew quiet as some of the girls noticed Chato outside the window, shouting at the phone. We remained calm and continued practicing. When Chato stormed inside with tears rolling down her face, she said the words that none of us wanted to hear: "Ladies, I have some bad news."

Silence ensued for a grueling 10 seconds.

"I just spoke to our accountant and our budget needs to be cut. This means that I have to also cut down the team from 40 Cheerleaders to a team of 28," she said. "The 19 veterans have seniority over rookies, therefore the rookies are going to have to re-audition for the remaining spots in groups of five."

I looked over at my new friends, as I felt my face get hot at the same time my palms began to sweat, and feverishly wondered if this was really happening.

I said a quick prayer before my positivity kicked in, and I jumped in the first group to begin my final audition routine. I smiled through my smudged makeup and made sure I kicked my unstretched leg so high that I would surely tear a hamstring.

I never wanted something so badly in my life. Adrenaline was pumping through my body and I felt the energy from my fellow rookies as well as the veterans that were cheering from the floor. After we completed the second round of free style dance, Chato and Jakene chose to go outside to decide which of the lucky rookies will be returning for this season, and which would have to pack their bags and go home.

We lined up and I grabbed the hand of my new friend, Alice, and said another prayer for us under my breath. Chato and Jakene stepped inside after what seemed like the longest five minutes of my life.

"When I call your name, please step back," Chato said.

I assumed she was pulling a Ryan Seacrest and declaring that those stepping back could either go home or move forward. I automatically assumed it meant that we were no longer a part of this team.

After rattling off three names of my rookie class, Chato said "Melissa."

I stepped back and began to wail at my failure.

She said two other names in silence, followed by: "YOU WILL ALL BE A PART OF THE ATLANTA FALCONS CHEERLEADERS!" and a roar of screaming and laughter, as you can see from the photo above.

At this point, I was so caught up in my failure that I had no idea as to what Chato had said. The vets tackled me and hugged me and laughed at all the fresh makeup running down my face.

They got me good. They got all the rookies good.

Although this little prank may have seemed cruel at first, I now know that my spot will never be guaranteed. Whenever I even think about complaining about a workout plan, a new "lifestyle," and all of the game day material, I will recall this very feeling and the emotion I experienced when I was first invited to be a member of the 2011 Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders.

I cannot wait to begin this season with this amazing group of ladies.

Cheers and Spinergy!

Melissa Z.

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