Highlands alums have come and gone through the years cheering for the Cincinnati Ben-Gals.
Sam, a 2013 Highlands alum, will be back for her sixth season this fall. She will dance with two more Highlands alums her sister Megan, a 2016 Highlands alum, and Corinne, a 2017 Highlands alum. Sam coached both at Northern Kentucky University. Sam returned to take over the Highlands varsity dance team this fall and Corinne is her assistant.
Sam had coached at NKU the previous two years. The Norse Dance Team did not have as many opportunities to dance last year as a result of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic. She'd been on the Highlands coaching staff prior to that.
"I think the biggest take-away for me is that it feels like I'm coming home," Sam said. "Being in the program that built me and set me on my path for my dance career, there's certainly a lot of my heart that belongs to the Highlands Dance Team. To get to give back to that and really build into the young women that are entering into their adult lives, I take that responsibility seriously. But it also excites me to get to watch them flourish under such incredible coaches that are alongside me. It really is a dream to get to work with incredible coaches, incredible athletes and incredible parents from top to bottom in the program."
Ben-Gals Director of Cheerleading Charlotte Simons said she's excited about Corinne and Megan. A number of Highlands alums have donned the Ben-Gals uniforms over the years such as Cat Watson and Erin Minsterman-Janson.
"They always come with a solid background, spirit to succeed, and amazing overall work ethic," Simons said. "I am super proud to call them Ben-Gals, work alongside them, while watching their growth as a dancer, and young lady."
Sam will be a co-captain for the fourth season. Delaney will serve the co-captain role with Sam for the third season. Delaney loves how Sam shows up passionate about the job and lifts people up.
"I'm very excited about the team we have this year," Delaney said. "We are a team of very strong, powerful women who are passionate about dancing so I'm excited to show that to our fans this year."
Megan and Corinne have things they are looking forward to in their rookie seasons. Corinne and Megan danced together at Highlands and Northern Kentucky University for a number of years.
"For me, it's just representing Cincinnati and just the team in general," Corrine said. "I as well as Megan and all the girls grew up with coaches that were Ben-Gals all throughout my middle school, high school, and college careers. Just seeing them and how well they represented the team and represented themselves, it was always my dream and my passion and it was something that I had wanted to do my entire life. So now being on the team is like a dream come true."
Megan is looking forward to taking it all in. The seating capacity at Paul Brown stadium is 65,535.
"I think that there will be nerves," Megan said. "But I think it will be good nerves and I think it will be a unique experience if I'm lucky enough to get to dance on the field. In order to do that, I'm just going to focus on choreography, enjoying it with my teammates, and not letting the nerves get the best of me."
Like Sam who teaches at Woodfill Elementary, Megan and Corinne have other jobs. Megan works for Mount Lookout Chiropractic and Sport Injury Center and is a full-time nursing student. Corinne works full-time at St. Elizabeth. They then come to practice a couple times per week.
"One of the most exciting aspects for me is knowing that I worked hard to achieve something that very few women are fortunate enough to get to experience," Megan said. "It's come full-circle and having the opportunity to dance with both of them again is such a blessing that I don't want to take for granted. Every moment that I get to spend with them at practices is just such a great opportunity that I'm thankful for."
The Ben-Gals have several rounds of tryouts. The final round saw 60 women dance publicly and 30 made the squad. It came down to the three standing out.
"I was definitely fortunate to have my sister in my court to support me throughout the whole tryout process," Megan said. "It is a totally different ballgame coming from a collegiate level dance team to professional. It's a lot more mental than people might expect. You have to be such a smart individual because intelligence plays such a huge role in your ability to make the team and then some."
Some fans may believe all 30 Ben-Gals dance at the games. But that is not the case as the most well-rounded 24 take the field. Sam said it depends on the year and specific guidelines the coaches set. But all 30 are included in some way.
Dance technique such as splits, turns, jumps, and leaps are incorporated into some routines. Megan and Corinne said the amount of choreography and routines is a huge challenge. Dancers coming into Ben-Gal tryouts are expected to know a lot of aspects of dancing.
"Once you go home, practice that on your own and you take that time out of your day to practice, you go to practice knowing what you need to know and you'll feel confident in order to perform in front of the coaches and the other team members," Corinne said. "I love dancing in front of crowds. The performance aspect of dance has always been my absolute favorite. If I get the opportunity to dance on the field, it's going to be just so awesome to go out there and feel everybody else's energy along with the girls dancing right next to me. I'll just be able to take it all in, have that adrenaline and perform to the best of my ability."
The Ben-Gals were not able to do community events as a result of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic. But they have been out in the community some this year.
"It's such a great opportunity to represent not only myself, but all the other women on this team in those events because we are such a well-rounded group of women in our careers and in our personal lives," Megan said. "I think it's just a great opportunity to show the people of Cincinnati and the Northern Kentucky area how well-rounded we are."
Sam earned the honor of representing the Ben-Gals in the 2020 Pro Bowl. She met cheerleaders from other squads.
"There are so many experiences that I could highlight on from that trip that were completely life-changing," Sam said. "But I would say that the biggest highlight was the fact that every single woman on that trip was of the highest integrity, hard-working, incredibly professional, successful in their careers and their dance careers. They were just all so driven in so many ways. You couldn't help but be inspired by the people around you the entire trip. Beyond that, we got to do so many events together and community outreach appearances. Working with somebody else in that capacity, you can't help but be drawn closer to them when you experience those things together. That sisterhood is definitely something that will last a lifetime."
Cincinnati has its lone preseason home game Aug. 29 against the Dolphins. Game time is 4 p.m.