I started cheerleading in the 8th grade – if you’ve read any of my previous articles, you might have come across the fact that I grew up a gymnast, but retired after high school and became a collegiate cheerleader for the University of Pittsburgh. Starting at that young of an age, I never really got to experience the thrill of being in the stands of a student section of a football game.

I grew up a Steelers fan. Both of my parents were born and raised in Pittsburgh, and as a family, we bleed black and gold for the Steelers. Now that I’m in college, we breathe blue and gold for Pitt. Basically, we live for everything Pittsburgh.

I’ve recently started cheerleading my 8th season of football games. Every year since I was 13, I’ve cheered my school’s football team to victory and stood by them through loss. I’m now 20 years old, and I have yet to attend a football game as a spectator. During my senior year of high school, my friends would be in the front row of the “Hawk’s Nest” (what we called our student section) and they would always call out my name and cheer for me. Now that I’m in college, some of my friends are able to make it all the way down to the front rows of the “Panther Pit” to wave to me and call out my name. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to get down to the front row and call out one of my friends’ names, but I think it’s pretty remarkable that people do it for me.

I find it interesting when my friends ask me if I’ve ever been to a game, because their faces when I tell them “no” is so dumbfounded. And by now, I can hear some of you thinking but you have been to a game, you’re on the sidelines every game. What’s different for me is that yes, I do get to watch the game, but I have never gotten to sit down and enjoy a game of football. But don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade being a college cheerleader for the world.

In the beginning, maybe around 8 or 9 o’clock, while we cheerleaders are warming up our tumbling and stunts, most students are just waking up and painting their faces for kickoff at noon. At about 10 o’clock, we as cheerleaders head out to the tailgates to get our fans excited. We meet alumni, maybe run into our parents, and get as many people hyped up for the game by encouraging them to do cheers with us as we walk through their parked cars and tables of food. By this point, the students are at a different parking lot, drinking and partying before making their way to their seats for kickoff. Just before kickoff, the student section is about as full as it gets, disregarding the few stragglers that wanted a snack before the game began. At this point, I’m down on the field, next to Roc the Panther, my best friends and teammates, in front of a camera and tens of thousands of people, cheering and waiting for the team to arrive. We dance and do stunts to “Hail to Pitt” and the “Victory Song” and then sprint to make a tunnel for the football players to run out through. I get more exercise in one game that most students have to go to the gym three times to get. But still, I’ve never been to a game.

At the University of Pittsburgh, we have so many football traditions that we participate in at the games. After a touchdown, if the field goal is good, students throw each other up and down seven times while clapping out “Hail to Pitt.” I wonder what it’s like to be thrown at a game. They say curiosity kills the cat, but curiosity won’t be killing this Panther. Nothing compares to being able to say I cheered on Heinz Field.