Dolphins cheerleader helps pick Sawgrass Springs Middle School squad

By Lisa J. Huriash
Sun Sentinel
October 27, 2010

For days, 127 girls practiced shaking their shoulders and perfecting their dance moves, hoping to land one of 25 spots on the Sawgrass Springs Middle School cheerleading squad.

Wednesday was tryout day. The competition was tough but it was who was judging them that made it more nerve-wracking. A Miami Dolphins cheerleader, Jennifer Fernandez, would help make the decision — and you can’t fake your moves in front of a professional.

“I look up to older cheerleaders,” said Zoanna Lake, 12, a seventh-grader from Coral Springs. “I fell asleep at 1 [a.m.] practicing the cheer. I made my sister watch it.”

“I’m excited and scared,” said Tiffany Castaneda, 12, a seventh-grader from Margate as she waited for her number to be called. “I’ve never tried out for anything.” But she was hoping she had what the team needed — “I love to scream,” she said.

Fernandez, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, twice a week volunteers her time at South Florida elementary schools, teaching a cheer camp and talking to students about making good choices.

2010-mdc_jennifer-fernandez3“The Miami Dolphins have given so much to me. It’s good to give back as much as possible,” said Fernandez, who has been with the team for four years.

Fernandez and two assistant principals judged the middle schoolers on their dance routine, appearance, jumps, timing, voice projection and spirit.

Fernandez said attitude was what she cared about the most. She said there have been Dolphins cheerleaders chosen who didn’t perform every step perfectly during tryouts, but had the winning attitude.

“You can learn anything if you’re given the time,” Fernandez said. “You can teach somebody to dance but you can’t teach somebody to love what they do.”

This is the fourth year Dolphins cheerleaders volunteered their time at Sawgrass Springs, the only Broward school that has requested them as judges, said Emily Newton, team cheerleading director.

“It’s important on both sides, that we are supporting the school systems and cheerleading programs,” Newton said. “And on our end, you always think one of the reasons cheerleaders come to be on this team is they are role models in the community, [they] go out and act as role models and encourage them [students] and support them and select a great team for their season.”

Sawgrass Springs cheerleading coach Ingrid Hillestad Molina, who was a Dolphins cheerleader in 1988 and 1989, said she tries to impart what her own choreographer taught her: When you sit on the bleachers, sit correctly; proper etiquette at all times — you’re ladies; stand up tall; smile.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun” said Emily Buckley, 12, a seventh-grader from Coral Springs, who was trying out for the spot she held last year.

The middle school squad travels with both the boys and girls basketball teams to cheer them on to victory. The season lasts November through December, unless there’s a championship.

Maylinn Arroyo, 12, a seventh-grader from Sunrise, also wants to keep her spot. “It’s so exciting getting the crowd ready for the basketball players,” she said.

The names of the winners were expected to be posted by the locker room Thursday morning.