Monday Morning Cheerleader: Tara Willson of the Cincinnati Bengals

2009-bengals_tara-willson3_smBy Steve Mazzucchi
Esquire
September 14, 2009

As the 2009 NFL season kicks off, we get the inside scoop on the incredible ending to the Bengals-Broncos game from an almost-Ph.D. who has prowled Cincy’s sidelines for nearly a decade.

For anyone who’s ever chanted “Who Dey,” the finish to yesterday’s Bengals-Broncos battle was simply crushing. With twenty-five ticks left and Cincy clinging to a seconds-old 7-6 lead, cornerback Leon Hall tipped a desperate pass from Denver quarterback Kyle Orton. The ball landed in the arms of unintended receiver Brandon Stokley, who raced 87 yards for the game-winning score. Shortly afterward, we grilled Tara Willson — a surfin’, rock-climbin’, doctorate-pursuin’ Ben-Gals captain — about tough losses, the Bengals’ portrayal on HBO’s Hard Knocks (“I think it’s accurate. What you see, that’s Chad.”), and life after pom-poms (“I’ll finish my Ph.D. in cancer and cell biology next year. I hope to run my own lab one day and work on either colon or breast cancer research. I’m kind of the nerdy one on the team.”)

ESQUIRE: What a heartbreaker of a game. Take us through the emotional roller coaster of the ending.

TARA WILLSON: After Cedric Benson’s touchdown in the last minute, we were totally psyched. It feels different in the stadium this year. With Hard Knocks and the changes the team has made, we were so hopeful. When that ball landed in Stokley’s arms, and he ran right across the goal line, waiting to go into the end zone, it just took the wind out of me. And then our sound guy plays two or three songs back to back, and I was like, I don’t even want to dance right now.

ESQ: You had to keep dancing?

TW: Oh, yeah. I have a little sheet in a fliptop wristband — just like a QB — and I call the different dances out to the girls in my corner of the field. It was really hard to keep smiling. The crowd was so loud, we had the hardest time hearing each other the whole game. And then when that happened, it was silent. I could have whispered to the girls.

ESQ: Besides Laveranues Coles dropping just about everything thrown his way, what do you think the problem on offense was?

TW: I felt like we were on for the most part. Ochocinco and Carson were hooking up fine. Carson was moving around in the pocket. Andre Caldwell had a good game. We didn’t play it safe on third downs. But I don’t think anyone expected Denver’s defense to step up and punch through the line as much as they did. Our defense did a fairly good job, too. We knocked down a lot of passes and we didn’t have too many penalties. Orton had 243 yards and a touchdown, but he only had about 160 and no touchdowns before that last play.

ESQ: Chad Ochocinco had five catches for 89 yards. Do you think he’s finally happy to be in Cincy?

TW: Chad’s Chad, and he loves to talk. But he seems like more of a team player this year. As much as we hated to lose TJ Houshmandzadeh, I think Chad will have a really good season. He had some good yards after the catch today — Marvin’s been pushing that. Chad’s been fairly quiet this preseason, and I think that’s a good thing.

ESQ: A lot of people have picked the Bengals to make the playoffs this year. What does the team need to do to make those predictions accurate?

TW: Um, score more touchdowns (laughs). The team’s motto this year is “Fight Back.” Maybe this is a good thing that they were so close. Maybe it’ll make them more hungry to fight back and dig in and score touchdowns and get the running game going and keep the line strong and the defense hyped, and be ready to rock and roll.

ESQ: You mentioned Hard Knocks. Was it really a good idea for a team that finished 4-11-1 last year to invite a bunch of HBO cameras in to film their preseason?

TW: I was surprised that the team signed off on it. But they’re not afraid to show anything. It’s almost in a way more interesting to do a show with a team like the Bengals, and the seasons we’ve had. How does a 4-11-1 team come back for 2009? I think it’s helped the team — and the fans here in Cincinnati. For fans to see how hard everyone has been working, they get closer to the players. Those are the guys you cheer for every Sunday. I get chills when I watch the show, because there is so much connection for me after eight years on the squad.

ESQ: In your first seven, the Bengals’ overall regular season record is 48-63-1 and they’ve only once finished with a winning record. Is it hard to stay optimistic?

TW: No. I’m supposed to be optimistic, I’m the cheerleader, right? It’s not as fun when there are no fans in the seats in the fourth quarter. But we have wonderful opportunities to do things for the troops and the community — only 10 percent of our time as cheerleaders is spent on the field. But it’s always exciting. I still get goose bumps when the team runs out of the tunnel.

ESQ: Million-dollar question. You guys going to the playoffs this year?

TW: I don’t like the way you’re laughing when you ask that. Yes we are! I feel confident. Fight back! That’s what we’re gonna do.

Cincinnati Bengals Cheerleader to lead EK Miners Dance Team

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East Kentucky Media|CINCINNATI – An NFL cheerleader will lead the East Kentucky Diamond Girls as the dance team’s choreographer. Letcher County native Sarah Gilliam – a member of the Cincinnati BenGals dance team – has been named Diamond Girls choreographer. East Kentucky Miners President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Kevin Keathley has officially announced Gilliam’s hiring. Gilliam is nearing her first season as a member of the Cincinnati BenGals dance team. A two-year member of the Diamond Girls (official dance team of the East Kentucky), Gilliam welcomed the opportunity to return to the East Kentucky professional basketball franchise for a third season.

sarah-gilliam2“I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with the East Kentucky Diamond Girls out of a choreographer role,” Gilliam said. “It’s a great opportunity and I look forward to having the chance to return to the organization.”

Gilliam made the cut with the BenGals dance team earlier in the year. Her tryouts with the Cincinnati squad started in April and ran into early-May.

“We are so proud of what Sarah has been able to accomplish,” Keathley said. “To earn a spot on the Bengals dance team says a lot about her ability and passion for performing and entertaining fans. We as an organization welcome the opportunity to have Sarah back with the East Kentucky Miners dance team. She has proven over the last couple of years to be a professional in every sense of the word. I really appreciate her commitment to the Miners organization. We know Sarah’s role will be limited to some degree because of her new role with the Bengals. However, her expertise and input will be valued. Sarah is a great example for the youth of Eastern Kentucky.

She is proof that if you work hard enough and believe in yourself any dream is possible. She will be able to provide great leadership and mentoring to our new group of Diamond Girls. Sarah is a prime example of what this organization has been about – to give talented individuals the opportunity to hone the their skills in order to pursue their dreams at the highest level. Now, Sarah can come back and help make the next Diamond Girls’ dream come true.”

Tryouts for the East Kentucky Diamond Girls will be held during the second month of September. Gilliam will be present for the upcoming Diamond Girls tryouts. A date for the Diamond Girls tryouts is currently in the process of being finalized.

Cincinnati Ben-Gal to Lead East Kentucky Diamond Girls

From WKYT.com

ekdiamondAn NFL Cheerleader will lead the East Kentucky Diamond Girls as the dance team’s choreographer. Letcher County native Sarah Gilliam – a member of the Cincinnati Ben-Gals dance team – has been named Diamond Girls choreographer. East Kentucky Miners President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Kevin Keathley has officially announced Gilliam’s hiring. Gilliam is nearing her first season as a member of the Cincinnati Ben-Gals dance team.

A two-year member of the Diamond Girls (official dance team of the East Kentucky), Gilliam welcomed the opportunity to return to the East Kentucky professional basketball franchise for a third season.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with the East Kentucky Diamond Girls out of a choreographer role,” Gilliam said. “It’s a great opportunity and I look forward to having the chance to return to the organization.”

Gilliam made the cut with the Ben-Gals dance team earlier in the year. Her tryouts with the Cincinnati squad started in April and ran into early-May.

“We are so proud of what Sarah has been able to accomplish,” Keathley said. “To earn a spot on the Bengals dance team says a lot about her ability and passion for performing and entertaining fans. We as an organization welcome the opportunity to have Sarah back with the East Kentucky Miners dance team. She has proven over the last couple of years to be a professional in every sense of the word. I really appreciate her commitment to the Miners organization. We know Sarah’s role will be limited to some degree because of her new role with the Bengals.

However, her expertise and input will be valued. Sarah is a great example for the youth of Eastern Kentucky. She is proof that if you work hard enough and believe in yourself any dream is possible. She will be able to provide great leadership and mentoring to our new group of Diamond Girls. Sarah is a prime example of what this organization has been about – to give talented individuals the opportunity to hone the their skills in order to pursue their dreams at the highest level. Now, Sarah can come back and help make the next Diamond Girls’ dream come true.”

Tryouts for the East Kentucky Diamond Girls will be held during the second month of September. Gilliam will be present for the upcoming Diamond Girls tryouts. A date for the Diamond Girls tryouts is currently in the process of being finalized.

[Cincinnati Ben-Gals]

Passion for Fitness

By Kimberly Bac
The Times-Tribune

brookesmallBrooke Griffin, formerly Brooke Johnson, is not only a Corbin native, but also a well-known fitness competitor. On July 19, 2009, while competing against contestants from around the world, the 27-year-old became the 2009 Fitness Universe Champion during a pageant held in Miami, Fla.

The Fitness Universe Pageant was designed to showcase the physical fitness of female competitors, while allowing them to keep their feminine appearance. Contestants were judged on numerous characteristics from showmanship to body shape. Brooke Griffin trained hard in preparation for the contest, which included scoring rounds on bikini and routine. This year, Brooke stole the show with her new “Braveheart” routine choreographed by Cathy Savage.

“I train very hard, simply because I don’t have a choice. My routine kicks my butt!” said Brooke. “I usually work out with weights and do cardio six days a week for about an hour a day. I then work on my routine five days a week for 1-2 hours each day.”

Despite Brooke’s training and focus, she was overwhelmed when she won the Fitness Universe Championships.

“The talent that surrounded me was amazing,” she said. “Any one of us could have won. It is truly a dream come true.”

Brooke’s modesty and gratitude go to show that even though she is an international fitness celebrity, and former captain of the Cincinnati Ben-Gal Cheerleaders, she never forgot her Corbin roots.

Daughter of Steve and Valerie Johnson, Brooke was born and raised in Corbin. She grew up surrounded by her close-knit family, including her two sisters Amanda and Cara Johnson. All of her family still lives in Corbin, and she has many friends that live in, and around, Corbin and London.

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One of Brooke’s fondest memories of growing up in Corbin was when she went to the Root Beer Stand with her family.

“I can remember waiting all winter for it to reopen,” Brooke explained, “and then we would go with our mother and father to get root beer floats.”

Brooke Griffin was always an active child, so her interest in fitness began at an early age. She began gymnastics classes at age three, and trained at Damar Gymnastics and Baptist Family Fitness, both in Corbin. Brooke also competed in cheerleading and track and field. She said her West Knox Elementary School gym teacher, Leann Strunk, gave her the drive to succeed.

“She is the best gym teacher in the state… we have stayed in touch since the 6th grade.” Brooke went on to say, “…I really give her credit for where my life has taken me thus far in fitness.”

As a 2000 graduate of South Laurel High School, Brooke went on to attend the University of Kentucky, where she was a member of UK’s National Championship Cheerleading Squad. Brooke was interviewed as a UK Cheerleader for the NBC 20/20 news special called, “University of Kentucky Cheerleading Dynasty.” In 2004, Brooke earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UK. Brooke said that going to college was the biggest break in her career.

“I could have never won the cheerleading championships, perform in the NFL, and now be a fitness champion without having attended college.” Brooke continued, “I think that getting an education is the single most important thing anyone can do for themselves and their future careers.”

Brooke has had an extensive fitness and performance career. She was captain of the Cincinnati Ben-Gal Cheerleaders after she made the team in spring 2006. Brooke said that being an NFL cheerleader was an amazing experience that gave her many opportunities.

She said of her cheerleading experience, “I made lifelong friends, and I still get chills thinking about performing in front of 60,000 fans during a Monday Night Football game.”

These days Brooke is working hard to achieve both her fitness and business goals. Even though Brooke is the Fitness Universe Champion, she already has her sights set on earning a Pro Card at the National Physique Committee (NPC) USA Nationals fitness competition in September.

“I will then have professional status and hopefully one day be able to compete at the Arnold and the Olympia with the pros,” Brooke said.

Brooke also has several business projects in the works. She plans to get more women involved in fitness competitions, write fitness and wellness articles, develop an online fitness program, create work-out DVDs, and start a fitness clothing line. Thus far, she has been featured in several magazines and print ads including, GQ Magazine, Oxygen Fitness Magazine, and Under Armour Fitness Apparel catalogs.

One of Brooke’s next projects is to launch a non-profit organization. The organization, which will launch in the fall, is designed to educate and promote childhood obesity awareness.

“I… want to reach out to local elementary, middle, and high schools,” Brooke said of her non-profit goals, “and to educate today’s youth on the importance of eating healthy and living an active lifestyle.”

Educating people about healthy living, and teaching them how to achieve their fitness goals is Brooke’s true passion. According to Brooke, beginning healthier habits is easier than it seems.

“Making one or two positive changes each day will eventually grow into a healthy lifestyle.” Brooke said, “It can’t happen overnight, but in time, you can make great strides.”

To encourage her clients, Brooke shares with them a simple and true quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

She said, “I tell clients that we are only given one chance at life, so ‘Make the most of yourself for that is all there is of you.’”

Brooke’s values of hard work, taking responsibility for your life, and always showing gratitude, are some of the lessons she learned while growing up in Corbin. These are lessons that she lives by every day, and she wants to teach them to her future children.

Brooke Johnson Griffin currently resides in northern Kentucky with her husband Chris, an attorney and former bodybuilder. She will soon be welcoming her parents to the area. After living in Corbin for 50 years, her parents, Steve and Valerie Johnson, are moving to northern Kentucky to be near Brooke and her sisters. Brooke Griffin is a true example of how a good upbringing can have a long-lasting, positive influence.

For more information about Brooke Johnson Griffin or view her winning routine, visit her website at brookegriffin.com.

Brooke will also be featured in the August edition of Fitness Plus Magazine.

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Ben-Gals host dance camp at Oak Hills

By Kurt Backscheider
Communitypress.com
July 10, 2009

Charlotte Jacobs said she may have discovered some future Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders.

Nearly 70 girls between the ages of 5 and 16 spent their summer evenings July 6-10 at Oak Hills High School participating in the first ever dance camp put on by the Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders.

Jacobs, the director of cheerleading for the Cincinnati Bengals, said campers learned basic techniques, choreography and general fitness from some of the NFL’s best dancers during the week-long camp.

“The camp is all about having fun,” she said.
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“We have several cute little girls who really know how to show off.”

Green Township resident and former Ben-Gal Julie Raleigh, coordinator of the camp, said more than half of the camp’s participants are underprivileged girls from around the Tristate.

She said girls from St. John’s outreach program in Over-the-Rhine, Rees E. Price Academy in Price Hill and the Special Olympics were given free scholarships to the camp thanks to sponsorships from the Shayne Graham Foundation, Mercy Hospital Western Hills and Mercy Franciscan at West Park.

“We think this camp is a unique opportunity,” Raleigh said.

“Some of these girls will experience another avenue of life that is not usually open to them. This experience is an opportunity for the girls to learn dance and just have so much fun,” she said.

Jacobs said the camp also helped kick-off this year’s Cincinnati Junior Ben-Gals program, an annual cheerleading program for young girls that culminates with a half-time performance during a Bengals game at Paul Brown Stadium.
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“The camp is a way to better prepare these young ladies for when they go into their school seasons, and help the girls in our Junior Ben-Gal program get ready for their season,” Jacobs said.

Raleigh said campers learned two dance routines, which they performed for fans at the Florence Freedom baseball game on Thursday, July 9, to raise money for Special Olympics.

She said the camp featured special guest speakers each night, including a Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputy who talked to the girls about personal safety and the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Members of the Oak Hills High School Oakettes drill team and cheerleading squads also helped out to make the week possible.
Additional Facts
Be a Junior Ben-Gal

Parents and girls who would like to learn more about the Cincinnati Junior Ben-Gals program can visit www.bengals.com/cheerleaders/junior-cheerleaders

The program runs from August to December and is open to 100 girls between the ages of 5 and 15 from around the Tristate. The Junior Ben-Gals season offers clinics designed to create and promote self-esteem, pride and confidence, and girls in the program learn performance fundamentals from Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders.

The program’s highlight is an on-field performance in front of 65,000 fans at Paul Brown Stadium during the 2009-2010 season.

Fitness Universe 2009 Results

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Good friend of the blog and former Atlanta Hawks Dancer Desiree Nathanson sends us this photo from Fitness Universe 2009. Desiree is on the left and placed 13th in Fitness, moving her way up from 24th last year! In the center is former Cincinnati Ben-Gal Brooke Griffin who is the new Miss Fitness Universe 2009! On the right is another good friend of the blog, Amy Campbell, who cheered for the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals. Amy won Miss Fitness Classic!

Congrats to all the ladies!