When the Florida A&M University cheerleaders take the field to hype the crowd for the kick-off of the 2009-10 football season, head Coach Brandi Tatum expects to bring out a more talented group to help spread rattler pride.
“We want to create an experience,” said Tatum. “We want to have that Rattler spirit so that if we have a song with the band then the crowd will know exactly what to say.”
Coach Tatum said the Rattler cheerleaders have upgraded their personnel and are now equipped to handle more complicated stunts. The team has worked on adding some of the late Michael Jackson’s moves into their new routines to keep crowd more excited during the games.
“We’re working on some things and we’re going to have some surprises,” added Tatum.
Senior Zakiya Gaillard, 22, an electrical engineering technology student from West Palm Beach, said the personnel changes from last year have enhanced the teams’ ability to perform more advanced routines and compete for a Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference championship.
“We have 30 cheerleaders and eight that are guys so we can do more collegiate stunts,” said Gaillard. “We have the squad to produce number one routines and win the MEAC.”
Gaillard said last year’s cheerleading team traveled to Raleigh, N.C. for the 2008 MEAC cheerleading competition and brought a second place victory back to FAMU. However, several of the cheerleaders considered their ranking to be a bittersweet moment.
“It made us sad because we went up there by ourselves and there weren’t any FAMU people there to cheer for us,” said Crystal Williams, 20, Rockledge, Fla. “But we represented FAMU very well.”
Gaillard said that cheerleaders don’t get the credit they deserve as competitors because the sport of cheerleading is not taken seriously.
“Just because we’re not a ball sport does not mean that we are not athletes,” said Gaillard. “We do hurt ourselves; we do athletics, we do training, we go through two-a-days just like any other sport and we should be recognized like any other sport.”
Stephen Williams, 23, of Jacksonville was a member of last year’s team said this year’s team is going to be working harder to enlist the support of Rattler fans for this season.
“If we can just get the support from the school I think our team can be a lot stronger than it already is,” Williams said. “But I feel that if we do good and we look good then the school will support us.”
The information link about cheerleading has been taken off of the FAMU athletics site but Coach Tatum said she tells her athletes that hard work and dedication will eventually raise their notoriety. “I try not let them look at it as we’re not getting recognized,” Tatum said. “It’s going to come to a point where you can’t ignore the fact that we’re good.”