On Sunday, Sept. 11, they will be arriving at Mercedes-Benz Stadium by 6:30 a.m., over six hours before the 1:00 p.m. kickoff is set to take place. The morning’s slate of activities will include practice drills, stretching and team speeches. Their workday won’t end until 4:30 p.m. — perhaps even later.
Such is the itinerary that awaits not Atlanta Falcons players but the team’s cheerleaders for their Week 1 showdown with the NFC rival New Orleans Saints. It is a jam-packed day for the organization’s cheerleading squad, a talented collection of dancers whose impeccably choreographed performances enhance the gameday experience for the packed house.
But who, exactly, are the Falcons cheerleaders? After all, performing their craft in unity, the cheerleading team is often perceived as a collective unit whose members rarely garner individual accolades or attention.
Behind the pom-poms and synchronized cheers are young adults leading ordinary lives, trying to balance their full-time careers with parttime cheerleading jobs that entail far more than marathon Sundays throughout the fall.
One such unsung member of the Falcons organization is Hannah W., from Greenville, S.C., who, by day, is pursuing her lifelong dream of being a professional dancer while working as a supply chain leader at Frito-Lay’s largest North American manufacturing site in Perry, Ga.
The balancing act is nothing new for Hannah. Last decade, while pursuing her chemical engineering degree at the University of South Carolina (in addition to being an active member of Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honors society), she was a fixture in the Carolina Girls Dance Team, dazzling massive outdoor crowds on postcard autumn Saturday afternoons while getting her first real taste of big-time football. (Even though she grew up in SEC country, there wasn’t a lot of football watching in her hockey-crazed household, she says.)
“With practice and games and workouts, it pretty much equaled out to a parttime job,” says Hannah, whose primary dance pursuits as a child involved theatrical and studio performances. “I was putting in 20-30 hours per week for the dance team on top of a full engineering course load. It was one of my big selling points when I was interviewing for jobs or internships. It would get a little hairy, I’m not going to lie, but it was worth it, for sure.”
Her current gig for the Falcons is no less demanding. In addition to the daylong activities for Falcons home games — on game day, there are quite a few pregame appearances in suites and tailgate parties on top of the warm-ups — the cheer team makes multiple visits throughout the Atlanta community all week long. (With games hardly ever occurring on Saturdays, bar mitzvahs are one type of celebration the team has frequented.)
And then there’s the regular practices and year-round workouts to stay in condition for her physically taxing parttime gig.
“It’s a lot of hard work because we are constantly moving,” acknowledges Hannah. “We try never to stand still for very long because our angle is to keep fans engaged, keep them excited.”
For Hannah, it’s the clock ticking down to kickoff, perhaps more so than the game itself, that she finds the most exciting.
“That’s by far my favorite part of the day,” she says. “You’re typically on the 50-yard mark, right in the middle of the field, and they play the national anthem. It’s just a moment for us to stand on the field and really soak it in. It gives me chills every time. I’m going into my fourth season and I still get chills after every national anthem.”
Hannah doesn’t take her job for granted. In the offseason, there’s a cutthroat selection process for the squad, as the pool of contenders is slowly winnowed down to a select few. While there’s one current member who had to audition eight times before securing a roster spot, Hannah herself wasn’t initially accepted during her first go-round back in 2018.
“It was the first time in my life that I auditioned for something and didn’t get it right away,” says Hannah, who is entering her fourth year with the Falcons. “Trying to go pro and getting denied the first time was kind of that first real setback that I had to experience.”
Certainly, being an NFL cheerleader isn’t easy, but neither is working in the supply chain industry at this time, particularly for a company that produces over 6 million cases of product a week.
“It’s been interesting to work through the supply chain challenges that COVID presented,” Hannah says. “We’re slowly working our way through the supply chain outages. All of our data from the years past has been COVID-related. So, we’re kind of flying blind here at the moment. Learning how to navigate this completely new realm of demand and forecast has been an exciting challenge.”
It may seem a stretch to draw parallels between the two vastly different professions, but while the skill sets pertaining to cheerleading and supply chain management may differ, there is some overlap between the respective cultures of the two organizations she works for, both of which she adores.
“The Falcons organization is incredibly team-focused,” says Hannah. “They are very concerned about making sure their team feels welcome. They know that if their team feels welcome, we’re going to make fans feel welcome. It’s all about a family business, treating everyone like family.”
- David Ostrowsky
- Mercedes-Benz Stadium
- Atlanta falcons
- New Orleans Saints
- Hannah W.
- Frito Lay
- supply chain leader
- University of South Carolina
- Tau Beta Pi
- engineering honors society
- Carolina Girls Dance Team
- supply chain disruption