Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SportsNation [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Updated: March 18, 12:03 PM ET
Q&A: Indiana's Ricci

SportsNation

 Ricci
Brittany says Ashley Judd has what it takes.
As part of ESPN.com's Cheerleader Challenge, we set out to talk to cheerleaders around the country and find out what it's like to do their thing in front of thousands of crazy sports fans.

We recently caught up with Ricci from Indiana who talked about her best moments as a cheerleader, why dating a fellow cheerleader is not high on her list and why cheerleading is a sport.

Stayed logged onto Cheerleader Challenge for more interviews with cheerleaders around the country.

SportsNation: What is the best thing about being a cheerleader?
Having the great experience to meet prestigious people at all the alumni functions and being a great role model for all the little girls that want an autograph or picture. It also has given me the wonderful opportunity to travel all over the continental United States, from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington and many places in between.

SN: What is a typical day for a cheerleader?
Waking up early for mandatory conditioning practice in the gym, showering, going to class to get our education, maybe a meeting for another club, and then in the evening we usually have practice from 6-9, or an IU basketball game to cheer at in Assembly Hall. Basically, a day packed full of activity, academics and excitement!

SN: What is the hardest thing about being a cheerleader?
All the stress it puts on your body. In general, cheerleaders get thrown so high in the air and land with only arms breaking their fall. They tumble on hard wood floors with hurt ankles and wrists; they lift girls over their heads with aching backs ... and, they do all of this with great big smiles on their faces. The other day in the New York Times it even stated, "Cheerleading is the No. 1 cause of serious sports injuries in women, ahead of gymnastics and track." This just proves how tough cheerleading really is.

SN: Is cheerleading a sport?
In my opinion, cheerleading can be considered a sport when it is a competitive squad that competes in national competitions. Cheerleaders are athletes because we condition on a regular basis, practice several times a week for three hours at a time, survive all the injuries and pain, and do amazing tricks that people could only dream of doing. Cheerleading takes great strength and flexibility -- this makes us athletes.

SN: What is your most embarrassing moment as a cheerleader?
It was at an IU basketball game. We were using signs to get the crowd yelling, "Let's - go - I - U!" and I had the "U" sign. For some reason I thought I had the "I" sign and I kept putting my sign up and screaming "I" and the crowd would not respond. They started laughing and kept pointing at my sign. I finally understood that I was yelling the wrong letter at the wrong time. Oops!!!

SN: What has been your best moment as a cheerleader?
It was during the NCAA Final Four in 2002, when Indiana University beat Duke and then made it to the final game of the tournament. Wow! What a memory!

SN: What is the toughest opposing stadium to cheer at?
Since Purdue is our biggest rival, I would say this would be the toughest opposing stadium to cheer at. Their crowd sure can be mean at times and maybe even throw objects at us. But, it's all just for fun. We understand the rivalry.

SN: What is the best all-time cheer?
The best all-time cheer at Indiana University is the traditional "I-U!" The entire crowd puts their arms in the air forming an "I" and a "U," while screaming their school letters proudly. As a cheerleader, this can be such a rush to hear the echo of this cheer throughout Assembly Hall!

SN: Do you have professional cheerleading aspirations?
No, after college, I am attending graduate school at Indiana University to get my M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology. Personally, it is time for me to pursue my dreams to work with children with speech and language disorders. But I will probably continue my love for cheerleading by coaching some way or another. Cheerleading means too much to me and I'm not ready to leave behind this part of my life yet.

SN: Any second thoughts about the uniforms?
Not really. Indiana University tends to be very classy in their choice in cheerleading uniforms. We do not have our stomachs showing and our skirts are of decent length. IU is very traditional and our coach makes sure we look presentable for every type of audience.

SN: What does it feel like to cheer in front of 100,000 fans?
It feels amazing!!! I love being in front of a crowd and doing Indiana's school song with the audience standing and clapping along with us. It makes you feel so special, as if you were on stage singing a solo. This is my way to perform -- entertain a crowd with them being included in the excitement!!!

SN: What are the rules at your school about dating athletes?
The cheerleaders at Indiana University are encouraged to think of our fellow teammates and other athletes at IU as a great big family. We are all brothers and sisters. Who would want to date your brother? We are there for support, laughter and for cheering each other on, but relationships are not promoted within the IU athletic program.