View from the Sidelines: An interview with Ottawa Cheerleader Amanda P

An Ottawa native, Amanda P has witnessed the growth of the Ottawa Redblacks’ franchise first hand, both on and off the field. One of the many talented members of Ottawa’s Cheer and Dance Team, Amanda has spent the last three years cheering, dancing and getting out in the community as an ambassador for the Redblacks’ organization.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you decided to try out for the Redblacks Cheer team.

I’m your typical small town girl. I grew up around farming and agriculture in Carp and attended West Carleton Secondary School. I graduated from the University of Ottawa with my Honours BA in Communications in 2016. I have been a Public Servant for five years now, and currently work for National Defence.

Auditioning for the team was actually a very last minute decision! I knew Stephanie C. (who is amazing!) from work and had been mildly exposed to the team through her. In the days before the audition (literally two days before), I asked her advice for the umpteenth time and decided to go for it. I got my headshot done, registered and the rest is history!

Aside from Stephanie, did you know anyone else on the team? If not, have you made some good friends?

Yes! Aside from Stephanie, I knew Riley, which means I knew a whopping two out of fifty athletes on the team! Jokes aside, I’ve made so many incredible friendships by joining the team. From Vanessa V. to Jenny to my partner in crime –the Brad Sinopoli to my Greg Ellingson – Cailin (#TheBudettes if I may). I have been truly blessed to have worked with the most beautiful, intelligent and driven people over the past three years.

What kind of responsibilities come with being a member of the team?

I think there is a big misconception around CFL cheerleading and a stigma which we as athletes actively work to eradicate. CFL cheerleaders provide countless hours of (mostly) volunteered work to their organizations across the country.

Becoming a member of any team brings with it the responsibility of becoming an ambassador to the organization; to adopt and promote their values and ethics and to support their mandate to the city. As a member you inherit the responsibility of exuding the best version of yourself to fans and members of the community who admire and look up to you.

Additionally, you are responsible for galvanizing the game day atmosphere, creating a positive experience no matter the direction or outcome of a game. As intense as the latter sounds, I guarantee nearly the 200+ CFL cheerleaders across the country would concede that this opportunity is unique and exceedingly rewarding.

How do you juggle school/work/practice?

Not without difficulty! I think having good time management and expectations help. It becomes much more difficult with academics involved versus juggling only work and practice, but again, team expectations are set up pretty early in the season to ensure all athletes are able to adjust.

Describe the atmosphere at TD Place on game day as someone who is at field level.

Y’ALL. ARE. LOUD. It is a heady feeling to stand in front of 24,000 fans who support 45 players so vehemently. From the chirps and cowbells on the South Side to my man Jesse up on the North Side with his drum – there is not a place in Lansdowne where you could block out the noise that R-Nation makes. It is not lost on any of us that standing on those sidelines is a very special experience.

What was the highlight of the 2017 season for you personally?

Receiving our 2016 Grey Cup Championship rings! (Yes I am counting this as a 2017 highlight)

Despite the Redblacks not playing in the Grey Cup, Ottawa came together as a community and by all accounts, did an amazing job as the host city. As a representative of the Redblacks, what did you most enjoy about Grey Cup Week? 

I think I most enjoyed being the host team at Grey Cup; sharing our stadium and city with everyone across Canada was truly special. It was almost like the last celebration for us as the 2016 Grey Cup Champions and alternatively a great way to pass on the Grey Cup to a new championship team.

With Ottawa out, were you cheering for anyone in particular during the 105th Grey Cup?

I was all in for Calgary, and I realize a lot of fans would probably question that logic. Normally, as an East Division team the preference is to keep the Cup within the East regardless of who is competing. But I suppose I was sympathetic to the Stampeders who, like the Redblacks, lost in their previous appearance and fought their way back for a chance to redeem themselves. No easy feat given how tough the West Division is. In the end, it was a fantastic game to watch, snow and all.

What would you say to those who want to try out for the Cheer team but may feel too shy?

I won’t lie, auditions are intimidating! You are coming into a room of athletes who have endured three to five seasons together and have experienced it all. That being said, as a veteran, I still get immensely anxious for auditions. To those who may feel too shy to audition I’d offer this piece of advice: Don’t let being nervous prevent you from taking on a challenge which could change your life.

What kind of characteristics does someone need to be a good CFL cheerleader?

The first word that comes to mind is dedicated. As an individual athlete you become engrained into a team of fifty people who depend on you for spacing, basing, knowledge and awareness. We only get nine games a season to perform, we all need to be on the same page to execute well!

Being personable and passionate is also important, we are constantly among R-Nation and in the community and we strive to ensure everyone is able to approach and cheer with us. To exude passion on the sidelines is to ensure fans at the top of those stands receive the same experience as those at field level.

As a cheer team veteran what role do you play in helping rookies become comfortable on the team? 

Honestly, it doesn’t fall upon one person’s shoulders. It takes all of our veterans to welcome each new class of rookies. It has become tradition that we plan a team bonding weekend every year before the season starts, coaches excluded. I believe that that type of team bonding (outside of our responsibilities to the team professionally), really sets the tone for the year.

During the season, I always try to ensure the team has somewhere to go following a game. Thankfully, the management and staff at Jack Astor’s Lansdowne are always so accommodating to us. It’s a great way for veterans and rookies alike to decompress while offering that informal bonding which really strengthens us as a team.

Who is your favourite player on the Redblacks?

Moton Hopkins! He was a stellar player, he is a great coach and a driving force in the Ottawa community. He really embodies the team.

What’s your go to restaurant at Lansdowne?

Jack Astor’s. However, CRAFT puts on an amazing weekend brunch. Local and Joey (when they aren’t packed) have the best patios. Lansdowne really offers so many good options.

What’s something most people probably don’t realize about cheerleading?

I’m going to use a quote from Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Jennifer on this one:

“…but anybody who walked into our studio at any given time might not know how many Master’s degrees we have in there, how many people that have incredibly reputable jobs, how many people that have put careers on hold to do this and to fulfill a dream; and they may not also be able to see right from the start how friendly our team is, how kind we are, how well we work together, how well we’re able to handle pressure… and we’re just an incredible, intelligent group of [people] that not only work hard on the sidelines to cheer on a team that we love, but we also like to bring joy to people. That’s mainly why we do what we do.”

Will you be trying out for the team again next year? If so, how will you prepare?

Did Cailin put you up to this question? I’m kidding. In all honesty I have not come to terms with a decision on that yet. To anyone who asks how they should prepare, I always recommend watching our recorded routines on YouTube.

CFL cheerleading and dance carries a lot of differences than stage or competition performances. There are also tons of fan videos which give insight into our sideline behaviour. You can never be too prepared! To ensure my body is ready for auditions, I usually incorporate hot yoga into my regular weight training and cardio routine to increase flexibility.

If you won’t be returning, what will stick with you from your time as a part of the Redblacks Cheer team?

I think the better question here is what won’t stick with me. Every single time we stood on field in front of 24,000 people singing O Canada. Standing on the sidelines when Ellingson’s touchdown on 2nd and 25 sent us to our first Grey Cup. The snowy 2016 East Division final which sent us to Grey Cup for the second time. Every single second spent on the sideline in Toronto. The parade with 40,000 people coming together to celebrate history. Receiving our Grey Cup Championship rings. Hosting Our Nation for the 2017 Grey Cup. Every single photo taken with a fan. Every chant. Every beautiful teammate I got to grow with over three years. The moments I have shared with this team and its fans are a blessing and memories that will stay with me forever.

Thanks so much for your time Amanda and best of luck with whatever the future holds!

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).