From cheering at Bragg to the NFL

Photo of Chato B. Hendrix courtesy: @atlcheerleaders

School spirit is often embedded in the DNA of students at Florida A&M University. But it doesn’t always end with a student’s time as a Rattler.

FAMU alumna Chato B. Hendrix has continued her career in spirit since her days on the hill. Hendrix graduated from FAMU in 1997 with a degree in psychology. She was also involved in many different organizations such as cheerleading, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Student Senate, and more.

She currently works as the director of the Atlanta Falcons’ cheerleaders. This is her 26th season with the Falcons. She was a member of the squad herself. She first became involved after an audition.

“I attended an audition prep class to learn about the program and the requirements. I then auditioned and made the team. As cheerleader I was very involved on and off the field. I participated and coordinated several civic events. I was also a line captain for two years,” Hendrix said. “After cheering for six seasons I resigned and became the coordinator of the junior cheer program. I was chosen to lead the adult program a few months later.”

Hendrix says she feels blessed to be in her position and describes coaching at such a high level as surreal.

“Coaching and performing at the professional level is truly a blessing and honor to serve as an ambassador for this organization in an effort to positively impact the loves of others locally and internationally,” Hendrix said. “I would also say the camaraderie among teammates and colleagues and the opportunity to cheer and coach in two Super Bowl games are some of the most exhilarating and rewarding aspects of being part of the NFL cheer industry.”

Kelsea Johnson attended FAMU for four years and was a member of the Venom Pom Squad for three of those years. Having been captain of the squad during her third year along with dancing since she was 12 allowed Johnson to gain the much-needed experience to enter the professional cheerleading industry. She is in her first year as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleading squad. Johnson says preparation for the squad began a year in advance.

“My preparation process actually started a year before my audition. Running 1.5 miles a day for stamina, changing my diet to feel better, and of course continuously stretching and working on my turns and tricks,” Johnson said.

Johnson says she most enjoys being a positive example for younger girls to look up to.

“My favorite part is entertaining the crowd and being a role model to the girls that aspire to professionally dance or cheer someday,” Johnson said.

Becoming a professional cheerleader is no easy task. It takes hard work and long hours of practice and dedication. Hendrix shares advice for those who aspire to have a career in the industry.

“Preparation is key. Focus on dance and performance skills. Also, research specific team requirements, and attend workshops or prep classes to enhance your chances. Networking and perseverance are key,” Hendrix said.

Although cheering professionally can be time consuming due to practices or appearances, many in the professional cheer business often have a second job. Johnson works full time as an equipment finance relationship specialist at First Citizens Bank. Hendrix works as a high school counselor and says the knowledge that she has gained while being director has enhanced her abilities as an educator.