“I consider myself a dancer,” she says. And her love of dance – and her dancing skills – have taken her to the sidelines of the football field at Sun Life Stadium as a 4-year veteran and now captain of the Miami Dolphin Cheerleaders.
Her first name is Alison. Although we can publish her pictures, we cannot publish her last name because the National Football League policy prohibits publication of a cheerleader’s full identity. Now, in her fourth season with the Dolphins, she’s there on the sidelines leaping and high-kicking and cheering during the ten home games each season. (The cheerleaders don’t travel to away games.)
You could say that she’s not an Alison-come-lately to the cheerleading squad. The desire to be there took root when she was just a child attending Dolphins games with her dad, an avid fan who had front-row season tickets since way back in 1972. “I grew up going to the games,” Alison says. With front-row seats, sitting as close to the cheerleaders as you can get, Alison was inspired by their athletic skills. “I wanted to be one deep down.”
As a seven year old, Alison got her first taste of cheerleading, bouncing around the field in a Lighthouse Point Recreation program for kids seven to nine years old. It never would have occurred to her that 12 years later she’d be engaged with professional cheerleaders before a stadium full of fans and a national television audience. Alison never pursued cheerleading in middle or high school as sports and dance seems to attract her attentions.
It’s no surprise that with a sports-loving dad and her own athletic ability, Alison took up softball when she was eight years old. Alison’s dad Rob “coached all our sports teams.” At first, she was the batgirl for her older brother’s team. Then when she played, she remembers that her first team was sponsored by McLaughlin Foods. She played softball until she was 16 and remembers her last year as her favorite. “I was like a big sister to the younger girls,” she says.
Her athleticism, which is relevant to dancing and the requirements of major league cheerleading these days, was noticed by Lighthouse Point Recreation Coordinator Bernie Converse. “She was a terrific softball player,” he says. Chuck McLaughlin – a friendly competitor who coached teams against Alison – remembers her this way: “When she was on one of my teams, I loved her. But as an opponent, she was always tough to beat. Great girl. Very proud of her.”
Like many girls growing up in Lighthouse Point, with support from parents and other adults, Alison was active in the Girl Scouts which also provided fond memories. She recalls strutting down the streets of the city in the Keepers Day parade holding the banner for Girl Scout Troop 305. Her mom supported the scouts as Alison’s scout leader, along with the mother of Alison’s lifelong closest friend, Katelyn Hummel. The troop held its meetings at what she calls “Miss Jodie’s Courtyard,” which is associated with North Broward Preparatory School, an important factor in her developmental years.
Alison received her education at Lighthouse PointAcademy and North Broward Prep, which operated in Lighthouse Point before re-locating to Coconut Creek. (The academy is an integral part of the prep school organization.) Along the way, Alison’s interest in dance blossomed, and she credits the rich arts enrichment program at North Broward Prep and the school’s dance coach, Heather Haley, as the major influences on her development as a dancer. Without it, she would not likely be a professional cheerleader. But that wasn’t her only dance instruction or involvement. Over the years she took dance lessons at “Real Dance,” a local studio. “ Alison was always a joy to work with. She has a great love of dance,” says studio owner Suzanne Citere. Alison, along with other girls from the studio, would dance at community events, such as Lighthouse A’Glow, the annual holiday event.
Within most success stories can be found a moment when the drive to accomplish something sparks to life. Yes, Alison had been watch Dolphins games for years and yes, she was a dancer for many years. But actually seeing herself as a cheerleader and committing to the challenge of becoming one can be traced to a specific day. “I had started at FAU but really missed dance from my high school days. I was watching a game at the stadium and it hit me – I could try out.” She was 18 years old and the cheerleader training class was to begin in the spring on her 19th birthday – a sign she took as very positive.
To go from tap dancing for a small town holiday event to dancing on national television for a professional football team requires a competitive spirit. There’s no shortage of competition for a spot on the Dolphins squad. More than a hundred beautiful women with various levels of dancing skill usually show up for the annual auditions. (If you don’t already have developed dance skills or can’t kick like a Rockette with your foot reaching above your head, you might as well stay home.) When Alison survived the audition and was chosen for the squad, she vividly remembers the first game. “I remember finding my parents in the front row,” in the seats she had sat in all those years.
Her experience hasn’t been limited to appearing at Dolphins games. It has also provided lifelong and unforgettable memories from trips overseas to visit our military troops who are always eager for anything that reminds them of home. On two military tours, Alison has been to places most of us may never see — Afghanistan, Kurdistan, UAE, Ethiopia and Bahrain. The cheerleaders usually present dancing performances, tour the base, meet with service members in the hospital, and do what are called “meet and greets” — talking with troops, having photographs taken with them and signing autographs. A few pro football players accompany the cheerleaders, bringing another welcome hometown connection to the troops. The value of such tours is expressed by an Army sargent, Aaron Majors, in a Department of Defense news release following a 2012 visit by the cheerleaders to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. “It’s a great morale booster,” he said, “ It puts every one in a good mood. It was well worth the wait in line (to have a photograph taken and get an autograph).”
Keenly aware that cheerleading – even as a professional – is not a lifetime career, Alison is now planning her future. She has enrolled in FAU (part-time during football season) to study multi-media journalism. Her love of sports is evident in her hoped-for path to become a sports reporter or work in the media in some way related to sports.
Because she considers herself a dancer, she’ll likely find a way to dance or stay involved in that aspect of the arts as well.
After 22 years in Lighthouse Point, Alison moved to Fort Lauderdale. You might say that you can take the girl out of city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl. “Lighthouse Point is such a great place to grow up,” she says. “I had such an amazing childhood there.”