The Making of a NE Patriots Cheerleader
They stood out amid a pool of fellow hopefuls, acing their auditions and landing a spot on the sidelines at Gillette. But now, balancing their glamorous gig with harried day-to-day routines, the hard part for these four Patriots cheerleaders—and North Shore natives—is hardly behind them. Words by Emma Haak, photographs by Jared Charney
Every year, hundreds of girls try out for the New England Patriots cheerleading squad. It’s a grueling process, but for those who make the cut, the hard work has only just begun. There are summer boot camps, twice-weekly practices at Gillette, endless trips to the gym, and long game days. Outside of cheering, the team members are just as busy. Between school, jobs, family, and friends, their lives can be hectic. North Shore natives and Pats cheerleaders Ashley Baldwin, Ali Sova, Siobhan O’Keefe, and Michelle Nigro know this all too well. Northshore followed these four second-year squad members for a day to see what their lives are like off the field. Their days are long, scheduled, and seemingly exhausting. But just like their cheering, these North Shore girls make it look easy.
Ashley Baldwin’s days revolve around three things: family, kids, and cheering. Though she lives in Charlestown, Baldwin was born and raised in Andover and stops by her family’s house every day to catch up. Her job brings her to the Andover area daily as well, working as a developmental specialist in early intervention at the Professional Center for Child Development. On any given day, she visits four or five homes to work with children on their motor and language skills. The University of New Hampshire grad and second-year Patriots cheerleader volunteered at the center during high school and college and jumped at the chance to return for a full-time gig this fall. "It was a very touching part of my life, and I really missed working there," she says. After work, the 24-year-old heads to the Institute of Performance & Fitness in Andover for a training session with her uncle, Jamie Damon. For a Pats cheerleader, putting in time at the gym is important, and it’s something Baldwin enjoys doing. Her routines on the field occasionally turn acrobatic, so she practices with the Andover High gymnastics team or the coaches at her old club to keep her skills up to par. All this training is a big-time commitment, but Baldwin says it’s well worth it. "I remember going to Dunkin’ Donuts and waiting in line to get the cheerleaders’ autographs when I was young," Baldwin says. "So it’s very humbling now to be the girl that signs autographs for the little girls."
For Emerson College senior and Swampscott native Michelle Nigro, cheering for the Pats is just one item on her laundry list of activities. The broadcast journalism major fills her time with classes, internships at Boston news channels, a part-time job at a Swampscott insurance agency, sorority activities, and her work as creative director of the Emerson Sports Network. Nigro also participates in the occasional pageant "to boost my public speaking and interview skills," the 21-year-old says. Throw in cheer practices and game days—where the squad has to be at Gillette five hours before the game—and it would be easy for all those commitments to meld into complete chaos. But Nigro has gotten multitasking down pat (excuse the pun). "The hardest aspect of being a Patriots cheerleader is time management. The key is to stay organized and know what my priorities are for class, school, and cheering," she says. Spending her time wisely often means that Nigro misses out on some of her favorite activities, like going to the beach. In fact, Nigro says that she can count on two hands the number of times that she made it to the beach this past summer, a pastime many New Englanders treat as a regular weekend ritual during the season. But being efficient with her time is well worth it for the experience of being a Pats cheerleader. "It’s an amazing feeling to be on the field with 70,000 of New England’s best fans cheering for your favorite team," Nigro says.
A family-wide passion for the Patriots helped convince Siobhan O’Keefe that it was only a matter of time until she would become a Pats cheerleader. "Every Sunday, my family gets together for a dinner that’s always planned around the Patriots game," she says. The life-long dancer and UMass Amherst senior tried out with fellow members of the UMass dance team and is now in her second year on the squad. O’Keefe says that commuting for practices and games while juggling a full course load can be overwhelming at times, so she relies on her day planner to keep her on track. Her weekday schedule is usually planned out from the minute she wakes up to the minute she goes to sleep. But the 21-year-old Salem native makes time to unwind by whipping up baked goods in her spare time. "I love creating new and innovative ideas for my cupcakes," she says. Though she’s committed to a full-time job as an auditor with Deloitte and Touche next fall, she has every intention of trying out for next year’s squad and fulfilling the three-year max for Pats cheerleaders. And though her cheering commitments often keep her from Sunday dinners, she’s found herself participating in them in another way. "I don’t always make them, but I can be there in spirit when my family sees me on the screen."
Ali Sova makes a lot of lists. From pursuing an online degree from Northeastern University to working part-time at a dental office to cheering for the Patriots, the Gloucester native has a lot to keep track of. Even though Sova is diligent with her time management, her decision to try out for the Pats cheer squad was spur of the moment. "I had just lost my uncle, and I was in the mindset that life is short and that you should go for whatever you want," she says. Sova trained hard for six months and made it through the notoriously intense tryout process for a spot on the squad. Now, the second-year cheerleader makes the long drive to Gillette twice a week to practice with the 30 other squad members. She’s had to turn down a lot of late nights out with her friends, but the 21-year-old Sova doesn’t see it as a burden. "It’s teaching me the rewards of hard work," she says. And it’s helping her appreciate what little spare time she does have. An amateur photographer, Sova heads outside during every seasonal snowfall and sunset to capture the views from the Gloucester waterfront. Growing up in her family’s historic home next to Pavilion Beach also gives her easy access to her other favorite haunts: the beach and the boulevard. When she’s not busy with the myriad other tasks on her plate, Sova can be found walking her two dogs along the boulevard or soaking up the summer sun.