By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations
You see them everywhereÂ--on the Quad, on the sidelines and on the field. You see them on the basketball court, the
volleyball court and the gymnastics mats. You hear their cheers from the upper deck and see their moves from the rafters.
The University of Alabama cheerleaders are one of the most visible symbols of Crimson Tide athletics. And these University of Alabama students are dedicated. From summer camps to spring tryouts, the squad's work seemingly never stops.
"I think the thing that I would want people to know about these kids is that they don't have an off-season," said UA cheerleading coach Debbie Greenwell. "We report back in the middle of July to go to camp, start preparing, get uniforms ordered, getting equipment in and teaching new materials to new people. By the time we get football season leveled out, we're cheering for volleyball also.
"Before volleyball ends we're cheering for men's and women's basketball. Then when volleyball ends we start with gymnastics in January. Basketball doesn't finish up, nor does gymnastics until the end of March and we have our tryout procedure in April for our new team."
Bama's cheerleaders are divided into two squads, the Crimson squad and the White squadÂ--once considered varsity and junior varsity, respectivelyÂ--with 18 members on each squad. Each squad cheers for Alabama's football, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams.
Preparation for the group begins in summer, with conditioning and refreshing of certain skills, providing a time for new students to get to know each other.
"In the summertime we probably come at least three different weekends before we start school," Brandon Prince, senior, said. "The workouts would consist of running and just working on our skills, trying to mesh together as a team and seeing who needs to work with whom. We're just trying to maintain our skills from tryouts and also learning new things."
Once the Tide's football season begins, the cheerleaders have two 6 a.m. workouts per week, as well as four night practices per week, a Friday afternoon run-through before games and Sunday night practice. Wednesday is an off day.
Fridays before home games, the cheerleaders and Big Al, the university's mascot, participate in events they have been
requested for, often alumni events or business appearances. Often they wander through the RV lots around campus, greeting and exciting the crowds that gather days before Alabama's games.
Game-day for Alabama's cheerleaders begins about 2 1/2 hours before kickoff, when both the Crimson and White squads begin setting up for the game. The White squad then heads to the Quad for "Kickoff on the Quad" and the "Elephant Stomp," while the Crimson squad rehearses for pre-game before the football team's warm-up.
"We have them come to stadium really early because they have to walk quite a distance to the stadium and sometimes it takes an hour because people stop them and want to take pictures and visit," Greenwell said. "Our White squad cheerleader girls were afraid they were going to be late, they were stopped so frequently."
The group gets a six or seven minute halftime break, after which they return to the field for the second half. After the conclusion of a football game, the squads pack up equipment, often staying an hour or more after games.
In addition to being a visual representative of Alabama athletics, Prince is also the squad's voice, manning the public address system before games and the student section during the game via wireless microphone. Inspiring 92,000-plus people who will gather in Bryant-Denny, he said, isn't always easy.
"You kind of just have to go with it," he said. "It's Alabama football so everybody's halfway there, they just kind of feed off of you. If I give 110 percent, they may give 50 percent. So the more I do the better it comes off, and if I get excited then everybody else gets excited.
"It's good adrenaline. I'm not nervous, just ready to get out and get the fans pumped up for the football team."
And sometimes, there are technical challenges to overcome as well.
"Brandon's biggest challenge is when they're down there on the field and he's on the house microphone there is a delay and an echo," Greenwell said. "We give him earplugs to hear himself and not the echo and he goes slowly to keep the beat, so the cheerleaders change how they cheer for pre-game."
While life as an Alabama cheerleader is extremely time-consuming, life as Big Al, the University of Alabama's official mascot, is equally demanding. In addition to supplying a never-ending sense of energy and excitement on game-days, Big Al must also deal with the numerous appearances per weekÂ--sometimes five per day for big gamesÂ--that he is requested for.
One of the challenges the mascot must overcome deals with the costume. This is, after all, the Deep South where heat is a major factor. To combat the heat, water must be consumed three days in advance in preparation for the sweltering heat inside the suit, which often climbs 40 to 60 degrees hotter than outdoor temperatures, meaning late August and early September games often soar into the 100s. To keep stamina, there are four different Big Als, all of which alternate during football games to maintain a high energy level.
"Big Al is just lovable, fun and he's having a good time and being silly," Greenwell said. "I think all of us have that little bit of a child in us when we go to the game; we want to regress back into just having a good time, forgetting about your worries, work and family, and that's what Big Al's doing all the time.
"He has as many fans that are adults as he does children. When he goes somewhere it takes him three times as long to get there because he stops and people want a high five and to get a picture made, and it's the adults."
For Alabama's cheerleaders, the constant time-management and physical strain pay off in the reactions of the fans, many of
which the squad sees when they follow the team nationwide.
"I feel like that I can read people and feed off the crowd and what they're doing and get them involved with the game as much as possible," Prince said. "Hopefully I do. If the football players are trying to get people pumped up then you can feed off of that and pay attention to a lot of different things that can help you."
Beyond the football field, Alabama's cheerleaders set examples in the community and in the classroom, reflected in the tough standards set by coaches. More than 5,000 kids came to the squad's cheerleading camps last summer, with many of the cheerleaders staying in Tuscaloosa working or taking classes to help out.
As coach of the squad that represents one of the most recognized ambassadors of the university, Greenwell, a former UA cheerleader herself, knows Alabama's cheerleaders are capable of setting positive examples for the school.
"I like to look at the cheerleaders beside the spirit part, they're ambassadors for the university," she said. "What they add is just that tradition and love for their university, a lot of class. Cheering is very important but anybody could probably get out there and just cheer; but these are outstanding students and ambassadors for the university, and we put a lot of pressure on them to walk that line.
"I think it shows in their face; they add that polished Alabama tradition that we have, and while they may be a little on the conservative side, that's class. That's Alabama."