PROFILE: Ben-Gal Concludes The Season
Communication major Carla McKenzie is a full-time UC student who spends Sundays at Paul Brown Stadium.
Date: 12/22/2002The Bengals game on Sunday, Dec. 22, marked the last home game of a difficult season for Cincinnati's pro football team. It brought to a close a long season not just for the players, but also for the team's loyal supporters, the Ben-Gals cheerleaders, including UC student Carla McKenzie.
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover (on campus shots)
A communication major in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, the 22-year-old cheerleader concedes that fall 2002 has been a difficult season, but she believes the players deserve praise none-the-less. "It's hard. Our guys take a lot of slack. But they are really nice," she says. Even during a season when fan support ebbs, she and her Ben-Gals teammates do not give up on their job of being the team's No.1 fans and keeping up the players' spirits.
"We try to psyche them up. We even made them gift bags filled with snacks and candy before a cut-throat game," she says.
McKenzie has just completed her second season as a Ben-Gal cheerleader. More than 15 years of dance experience helped her to make the final cut at two auditions. If she decides to continue as a cheerleader, she will have to try out again in 2003. She hasn't decided what to do about next year.
As tough as the season can be for the men who step onto the gridiron, so too can be the year for the cheerleaders. Auditions take place in March with rehearsals beginning in April. At first, the Ben-Gals gather for practice two nights a week for a minimum of two to three hours each. Then in June, the schedule kicks into high gear as the squad meets three times a week for rehearsals. The cheerleaders receive a minimal payment for their work.
"It's a long season, and it's a lot of work," admits McKenzie, who must weigh in at every practice just like a player. Unlike the massive members of the football team, the Ben-Gals aim for the opposite end of the scale.
"I have to watch what I eat. I try to eat fewer carbs. Mom's cooking doesn't help at all. Fast food is one of my downfalls, too," says the 5-foot-6-inch Clifton resident and native Cincinnatian.
Despite the time and dietary sacrifices, McKenzie finds cheerleading brings intangible rewards that make it all worthwhile. Her favorite part of the job is unpaid activity for charitable causes such as the American Heart Association, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Habitat for Humanity. The close bonds she forms with the other members of her squad also are a big plus.
One drawback to her beauty and cheerleading activity, however, is that some people stereotype her and her teammates as "ditsy." McKenzie counters that notion by pointing out that there are "a lot of intelligent women - nurses, doctors, teachers, students and mothers and wives" who stand beside her on the sidelines as Ben-Gals.
With the football season winding down, McKenzie recently has been drafted for another role. This one resulted from one of her communication courses at UC. She now serves as a spokeswoman for the Imagemaker Awards, assisting Sallie Elliott in promoting the awards through the news media. A winner of two Imagemaker scholarships as a student at Walnut Hills High School, McKenzie recently re-established contact with Elliott, the editor of award sponsor Applause Magazine, when Elliott served as the client in a public relations campaign course McKenzie took. The former Imagemaker scholarship winner could recently be heard on Courtis Fuller's talk radio show on WCIN.
Fuller and others have suggested that McKenzie should consider a broadcasting career of her own, but for now she is concentrating on finishing her bachelor's degree. Her favorite part of UC is her professors. "I love a lot of my communication teachers, like Lisa Newman, LisaMarie Luccioni and Evan Griffin. Lisa Newman is always willing to network for us." McKenzie plans to get a job in communication upon graduation and hopes to return to school for a master's. She also may try again to win the Miss Ohio pageant, a competition in which she has already won scholarships.
To keep track of her full life of cheerleading, charity, school, work and other interests, McKenzie relies on a Franklin Covey date book, which she carries everywhere she goes. "My godmother got me one when I was in junior high and at first I thought 'I don't want this.' Now I'd be lost without it, and have to call in sick."