UNC cheer team, too, fulfilling dreams at Final Four

— I started cheering when I was 4 years old. You could say I don’t know a life without it. One of the first goals I remember having was to become a Carolina Cheerleader and don that powder blue uniform on the sideline at the Dean E. Smith Center.

Fast-forward 18 years: I’ve cheered in the Dean Dome too many times to count and am flying to Houston to cheer on my beloved Tar Heels in the NCAA’s Final Four.

This is the weekend when Marcus Paige drains his last 3-pointer in a Carolina jersey, when Brice Johnson dunks one last time in that suit of argyle and when I will lead one more cheer in the uniform I always longed to wear.

I can’t think of a better way to end my cheerleading career than supporting a team I’ve loved since I can remember.

Maddie Gardner

The Final Four is no joke. The cheer team’s schedule is packed with appearances, practices and pep rallies. We are allowed to bring 12 members of our squad, and this year that means all 11 senior cheerleaders and one junior.

Throughout our season, we train for game days. We practice twice a week to develop skills and routines along with weight training with the football strength coaches to stay in tip-top shape.

Basketball games come and go like Saturdays during football season. We take the court, do our jobs, go back to practice and try to improve. We look at the season one game at a time.

When tournament time comes, the stakes are even higher. Any game could be our last, and knowing that always sets the bar a little higher for us.

It’s also the only time during basketball season that we are on the court with the opposing team’s cheerleaders. During the regular season, we don’t travel to away basketball games. The competition aspect is always fun, and the basketball truly is madness.

We are fortunate enough to travel with the basketball team, which means we leave when they leave and stay where they stay. We have to plan for anything to come up without notice: an official appearance, an impromptu practice, a team dinner or free time with our teammates.

That’s where I come in.

One of my many duties as captain is to create the packing list, a detailed agenda of what to wear and where to wear it complete with weather forecasts.

Packing list

We also have to plan to miss classes for weeks at a time. Although coaches give us an official university excuse, our teachers have to be willing to work with us.

That’s why you can find most of the cheer team glued to a hotspot in the hotel lobby when we aren’t on official cheer duty. Class happens whether we are there or not.

It takes a lot of commitment on our end, but I know no one would have it any other way. We love this basketball team like we love our own team. The work is worth it.

I’m excited to see what this weekend has in store. It’s been 18 years in the making, and I’m ready to see where this journey takes me!

Keep up with the cheerleaders journey to the Final Four!


Maddie Gardner is a senior broadcast major at UNC-Chapel Hill and captain of the Carolina Cheerleading Team. She has agreed to chronicle her experience at the 2016 Final Four for WRALSportsFan.com.

,This is the weekend when Marcus Paige drains his last 3-pointer in a Carolina jersey, when Brice Johnson dunks one last time in that suit of argyle and when I will lead one more cheer in the uniform I always longed to wear.

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