ATLANTA --With back-to-back winning seasons in the bag, the Atlanta Falcons franchise looks to open a new chapter in the 2010 NFL season.
A new draft class is two weeks away from joining the team, hoping to continue to write a new chapter of history for the franchise. The sideline team of ladies who lead the Georgia Dome crowds in cheering for the hometown team are also updating their squad.
And starting new traditions.
Sunday the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders held preliminary auditions to find new talent to add to their existing, 32-lady roster. With new additions come new programs to make the Falcons cheerleading team an even more visible part of the franchise and community.
The phrase "New South" has been coined to describe the transformation of the collection of ladies, a group that strives to uphold the same values as the franchise they represent.
"New South: that's just hip, attractive, glamorous, outgoing, kind, and articulate," said Chato Waters, The Falcons cheerleading coordinator. "(It's) basically enhancing what we have. The new thing about the program is that we're going to new levels with new logos, new uniforms, a swimsuit shoot in Cancun and more exposure for the girls."
Waters, a 13-year veteran of cheerleading with the Falcons, believes the new group has a unique opportunity to not only experience life-changing moments in their own lives, but also enhance the lives of fans on game day and around the community.
It's a rigorous selection process.
Over 250 women showed up at the Georgia World Congress Center for the first round of tryouts. After four hours and two rounds of performances and cuts, only 50 remained.
Waters said this year the roster will increase to approximately 40, the additional eight serving in support roles for appearances. All existing cheerleaders on the squad were given a bye for the first round, but will compete for a position on the team at the final auditions Thursday evening.
For the current members of the Falcons cheerleading team, the new changes are exciting, but stressful. The level of competition has risen.
"Considering this is my third year, it is extremely, extremely stressful," said April, a member of the franchise's current cheerleading roster. "I think it's even more stressful when you've already been on the team because you've already experienced it and you know exactly how much fun it is and you know what you would be missing out on. So, for me, this year I'm just going to have a good time and do the very best that I can because that's all you can do."
April, like many of the cheerleading hopefuls present Sunday, has something in common with the players on the field: Performing in front of a packed Georgia Dome crowd.
"Nothing can explain cheering in front of 75,000 people," said the three-year veteran. "I'll never forget my first year coming into the Dome. No words can explain how wonderful an experience it is. The Falcons have great, great fans. They're extremely supportive."
Every potential cheerleader Sunday wants to experience that thrill in 2010.
As Waters called the numbers of the final 50, after all the energy was spent and dance moves were complete, the room was silent.
There were those upset about not making the cut, but for those that moved a step closer to living their own football dream, it was thrilling.
Many of the ladies selected Sunday understand the idea of "New South" image and that being an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader is more than just a Sunday job. Becoming a part of one of the bright, young franchises in the NFL is an achievement and with it comes responsibility.
"I not only accomplished something, but I get to be a bigger part of the community," said Theresa, a finalist and former University of Central Florida cheerleader. "I'm kind of an ambassador, instead of just for a college, now I'm an ambassador for a whole city. I think that's really exciting."