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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Highlands Alum Excited About Upcoming Season with Ben-Gals

Reynolds Enters Second Season as Captain

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Cincinnati Ben-Gals Captain Sam Reynolds (center) leads a cheer while teammates Emma McClure (left) and Nicole Armour (right) follow. Reynolds is entering her fourth season on the squad and second as captain.
PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Cincinnati Ben-Gals Emma McClure (left) and Sam Reynolds (center) are entering their fourth seasons on the squad and guiding rookies such as Nicole Armour (right).

Sam Reynolds can't help but be excited for her fourth season on the Cincinnati Ben-Gals professional cheerleading squad. Reynolds, a 24-year-old 2013 Highlands graduate, will also be a captain for the second season.

The squad has 28 members with a nice mix of returning dancers and rookies. Reynolds refers to cheering mates as sisters.

"All the rookies (and) all the vets have just such as positive attitude. My biggest excitement of this season is seeing the growth that's going to come from this team because we're already starting in a better place than previous seasons," Reynolds said. "That's exciting for me as a leader to get to harness that and kind of see how far the team can go. I think with the positive attitudes that we have and the work ethic that these girls exhibit, there's no telling how strong we'll be by August, preseason, but also to be able to see how far these ladies come in their personal and professional lives. There's so much growth that can happen from this team. Our coaches and directors are true mentors. You leave a changed person from the person that you came in as so I'm excited to see how far my sisters (teammates) come, get to be a part of and dance alongside of them. That's something I'm so grateful for."

Notre Dame graduate Emma McClure is also entering her fourth season with the Ben-Gals. McClure and Reynolds danced together for Northern Kentucky University's Dance Team. McClure echoed Reynolds' sentiments on the season.

"I think our team chemistry is incredible," McClure said. "Every year is very different. But so far this year, I can already tell we're a close-knit team. It's so interesting to get to know every individual on our team because we all come from different backgrounds and different careers so everyone has something different to bring to the table and become the best team that we can be."

Reynolds and Abby Siemer are co-captains. Siemer danced in the Pro Bowl for the squad last year. Ben-Gals Director of Cheerleading Charlotte Simons said Reynolds will be one of three Ben-Gals going to a dance conference in Atlanta this month to bring back choreography to the squad.

"As always, Sam brings sold leadership and experience to our team," Simons said. "We are thankful for her desire and ability to guide others as she continues to grow in her skill as well. Her heart and desire for the team is very special, and I am thankful to work with Sam as a cheerleader and a captain for 2019-2020."

During the summer, the team practices three times a week and the rookies practice a fourth day. During the school year, the team practices twice a week. Reynolds has mainly focused on her fitness again in the off-season personally and bringing the team together as a captain.

"To me really, it's not so much an honor to be recognized because it elevates me personally. It gives me an opportunity to give back to a program that's done so much for me," Reynolds said. "I got to be captain at NKU as well. It was never something I strived for. It was just something that was a pleasant surprise not because I wanted the power position or anything, but just the opportunity to serve my team. I think there's so much that goes into making game day happen and all the stuff that's behind the scenes (such as) events and things like that. It takes a lot of hands on decks and someone who can give the time and energy and really pour into my friends. That's something that I don't take lightly."

Reynolds knows the importance of every dancer being on the same page with the routines. Reynolds said she and Siemer align in the idea of being proactive in everything.

"We're already trying to get systems in place in terms of fitness, glamour and dance technique so that we're hitting things head on," Reynolds said. "The biggest thing is having similar goals so we had our boot camp on Sunday and that was really nice because we all got to kind of align in terms of our purpose of why we're here. Outside of this, we're all professionals. We have other careers. This is secondary. This is like a really exaggerated hobby."

Reynolds said the team has already learned 10 to 12 routines as of practice a week ago. She said it may be a lot, but it helps the mind.

"I think that's something people underestimate because you have to be so intelligent to be on this team," Reynolds said. "You learn (a new routine) in practice. At the next practice, you're expected to perfect it then you perform everything else and you're evaluated on it and they make decisions based on it so there's a quick turnaround. You have a lot of material you're expected to retain at one time then quickly reproduce it. 

It's especially hard for the rookies because they're coming in with everything fresh, but we're learning a routine every day in practice which is at least two new routines a week. With having careers outside of here and trying to balance work and life and all the things that we do, it is a lot. It keeps us all motivated to do better and push ourselves. We've all been dancing since we were super little so none of us want to come in and not be challenged. We want to produce that product on game day that is something to be proud of and if we aren't constantly learning new material, then we produce the same things and the fans get bored. 

It does keep us on our toes. That's for sure. But I don't think we'd want it any other way."

Reynolds noted the importance of trying to keep up with what's going on with the Bengals. In an episode of making the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders squad years ago, a coach expressed frustration with a potential dancer not knowing when the first preseason game took place and the opponent.

"We try to do a good job of what's going on with the team outside of here. That's our purpose," Reynolds said. "That's why we're here, to support the team. I wouldn't say that we're experts all the team. But we do our best job to keep up to date. We have a weekly newsletter that has Bengals news so one of our teammates will kind of research and look into that. So she keeps us updated on if a player is traded or we have a new player. At least we'd be familiar with that before we go out into the community and work an event."

Reynolds is aware of the excitement entering the season surrounding new Head Coach Zac Taylor. The Bengals have not been to the playoffs since Reynolds has been a Ben-Gal. They finished 6-10 last year.

"I'd say energy around the stadium has really been high. It's cool because it's giving everybody around the stadium something to look forward to and something be excited about," Reynolds said. "Overall, we've already experienced the high. Everyone's already preparing for game day. Everyone's elevating things in terms of game day and promotions. Just that excitement is really cool for us. It lights a fire under us to bring our best more so if there wasn't that positive change so we're excited to see what new energy he brings and how it gets the fans excited again because the city loves this team. We have the most loyal fans so we're really excited to see what this growth does for us with the fans."

Reynolds is again partaking in public relations events for the Cincinnati Bengals organization. She's helping out with the Junior Ben-Gal squad.

"You have to have the whole package. You can't just show up and be a strong dancer," Reynolds said. "That's only going to get you so far. There's only 10 games per year so the majority of what we do is represent the Bengals organization."

The Ben-Gals are not allowed to socialize with the players outside of community functions. Reynolds' favorite community event is the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Christmas Party.

"Those are are really special to us because it let's them know we have the same goals," Reynolds said. "We're on the same team. I think that's really a byproduct that no one comes into this team really expecting. You come in thinking you're going to be on your next dance team and you don't realize the impact you're going to have on so many lives. There's so many connections I've made as well as my teammates."

Reynolds went through her rookie season in 2016. She's been mentoring rookies such as Nicole Armour. Armour just graduated from Xavier University after dancing there.

"I think after to talking to all the captains, all the vets, the coaches and everyone who has experienced this before, there main takeaway is take everything in your first year as a rookie," Armour said. "It's so new. It's so exciting - the fans, the crowd, the stadium. It's just a whole new environment so everyone has their own journey I understand to take it in and make it your own."

Reynolds had been on the Highlands Dance Team staff for a few years. Reynolds coached the middle school team last year, but will take over the the Northern Kentucky University Dance team this year. Reynolds danced at NKU for three years.

"Taking on NKU's Dance Team is an extreme honor. It's not something that I was expecting. But when the opportunity presented itself, I welcome the challenge because I've taught dance at every level except college," Reynolds said. "I've taught at a studio for younger teams and I've obviously coached high school and middle school so I'm really excited about being with a bunch of girls who at this point in their lives are doing it because it's not something they're willing to give up so there's already that commitment. Highlands is a well-developed program so from a management standpoint, I don't feel like I'll have any struggle there so it's just going to be elevating the choreography and the technique to a higher level for collegiate dancers. I'm really excited NKU being my alma mater. I get to go back home again. I'm leaving one team that's really near and dear to my heart for another. I'm really excited to grow and develop another program."

Fans can first see the Ben-Gals in game action on Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. The New York Giants come to Cincinnati for a preseason game.

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