Cheerleader services manager Alto Gary addresses a field full of cheerleader hopefuls at the 2008 Texans Cheerleader Tryouts on Saturday, April 12.
This weekend, more than 400 talented and beautiful women flocked to the 2008 Houston Texans Cheerleader Tryouts at the Methodist Training Facility, each vying for one of the 35 spots on the upcoming year's squad.
The pre-registration total approached 1,000 for Saturday's all-day event, which drew cheerleading hopefuls from as far as away as New York and Kansas City.
Although 12 members of the 2007 squad did not try out for the 2008 season, several, including long-time captain Samantha, were on hand to wish their former teammates well. Cheerleader services manager Alto Gary regretted seeing past veterans move on, but she was by no means worried about her future squad.
"We have a little bit of everything (at tryouts), because this year we have such a high turnover," she said. "This is kind of our transition year, so we might change the attitude of the team. I have a lot to pick from, a lot of talented girls, a lot of beautiful girls. I'm never short of what I need here."
Indeed, a large surplus of talented girls was on hand, with one common goal: to advance through four rounds of cuts and make it to the finals set for Friday, April 18.
The competition began with round one, shortly after Saturday's 8 a.m. registration. More than 100 judges, ranging from choreographers to Texans players to corporate sponsors, quickly trimmed the field down to 200 girls.
"So far, I think there's a lot of good talent out there, a lot of ladies out there showing their stuff," Texans defensive tackle Amobi Okoye said. "Hopefully, we did a pretty good job judging."
Okoye joined teammates Mario Williams and Will Demps as guest judges for the event. While Williams and Okoye departed after round two, Demps stuck around through the evening hours until the conclusion of round four.
"It's like a draft for cheerleaders, I guess," Demps said. "I'm trying to be a Rick Smith today and weed out the potential and the looks and what they can bring to the squad, so there's a lot of things. I think it's all here as fun for us, but for them I know it's hard because this is a lifelong dream for them and I know they're excited and I'm just here just to give an insight to the (judges) and see what they need and just have fun with it."
The competition heated up in the second round. The girls had 45 minutes to learn and master a dance routine before performing in groups of 10 for a more select crowd of judges.
New choreography for round three presented another challenge for the participants, but the ante was upped further by the arrival of the veteran cheerleaders, who are allocated a free pass for the first two rounds before joining the mix.
"It's pretty intense," two-year veteran Ashley said. "I mean, we have something to lose and so I think coming back as a vet, it's a little bit more intense than coming on as a rookie. I think they have greater expectations of you from the year before because they've seen what you can do and they expect a little bit more the next time around, so you definitely have to earn your spot back."
Gary saved the most difficult dance for the fourth round, which began at approximately 7 p.m. Having fended off exhaustion and kept fresh with a steady variety of snacks, energy drinks and beauty accessories, the remaining girls performed one last time.
Forty-nine finalists were selected. On Sunday, they returned to the Methodist Training Center to learn the dance routine which they will use at the Texans Cheerleader Tryout Finals this Friday, April 18, at 5 p.m.
Gary can't wait to see how her new squad turns out.
"I can start envisioning dances in my mind and I can actually have people to envision them with now, so I'm very excited," she said.
"I have to get the feel of the squad, like whoever makes the squad I kind of just see what's here and what's there. Do I have a lot of sweet wholesome girls or sassy girls? It should be interesting. Looking now, it should be probably a little sassy."