Strength of Spirit

Tough training and a love for UAB lift cheerleaders and Golden Girls
By Cary Estes • Photos by Jimmy Mitchell/UAB Athletics • Historical photo courtesy of UAB Archives
Photo of cheerleader Jamie Thrasher carrying UAB flag through Bartow Arena crowd; headline: Strength of Spirit
Tough training and a love for UAB lift cheerleaders and Golden Girls
By Cary Estes • Photos by Jimmy Mitchell/UAB Athletics • Historical photo courtesy of UAB Archives
Spirit does not have an off-season. Enthusiasm for UAB and Blazer sports remains high year-round. This is especially true for the cheerleaders and the Golden Girls dance team, who are, in essence, fans for all seasons, ardently supporting the green and gold on fields and courts and far beyond.
The spirit teams lead the way when the Blazer football team storms Legion Field. They provide the loudest cheers when the men’s and women’s basketball squads need a crucial defensive stop late in the game, or when the volleyball team is in the final moments of an intense, five-set match. And often, the spirit teams are on hand for important campus announcements or special events around Birmingham, embodying the strong links between UAB and its hometown.

Photo of cheerleader Ashley Garcia cheering at basketball gameAshley Garcia celebrates with fans as the men's basketball team scores a victory against UTEP. (At top) Jamie Thrasher fires up the crowd at Bartow Arena before the game.
“We are essentially UAB’s frontline connection to the community,” says Spirit Coordinator Cody Sellers. He joined the Blazers last June from the University of Minnesota, where, as an assistant coach, he helped the Gophers score high marks at the 2017 Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) College National Championship. Before that, Sellers scored seven Division II national championships at the University of West Georgia—two as an athlete and five as an assistant coach. Sellers also won a gold medal for Team USA in the 2010 International Cheer Union World Championship.
Growing up in Graysville, Alabama, Sellers attended Blazer football and basketball games. So he jumped at the chance to join UAB in time for football’s return. “I’ve never felt more excitement around the Birmingham community about UAB football,” Sellers says. “It’s a great time to be part of all this.”
Sellers leads a group of 30 cheerleaders and 15 Golden Girls. With the help of Golden Girls head coach Abby Southerland and assistant coach for cheer Alison Tralongo, he oversees practice and workout sessions that can be every bit as demanding as those for the athletic teams.
Once the spirit teams are selected in spring tryouts, a two-week summer camp precedes a schedule of four practices each week beginning in August. Each two- to three-hour practice “can get rigorous,” Sellers says. “We have to make sure everything is safe, so we start with the minimal skills and lead up to elite skills. We work on tumbling and stunts, and handling the game-day atmosphere.”
Team members also meet twice a week at 6:00 a.m. for workouts with athletic trainers. “A lot of physical stamina comes with cheering,” says Tralongo, herself a former UAB cheerleader. “They repeat skills and stunts over and over, so they have to be in good physical condition.”
Golden Girls have the additional task of learning numerous choreographed dance routines. A few come from a summer dance camp, while Southerland creates some routines herself. “To learn and perfect each routine takes at least two or three practices,” she says. “We put in a lot of time getting everything just right.”
While UAB fans enjoy the results of that physical and mental training at games, the spirit teams also work toward victories of their own at the annual UCA/UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship. “We prepare all year for that one shot in January,” Sellers says. “That’s on top of football, basketball, volleyball, and multiple appearances.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he says. “But we enjoy going to games and into the community. We want to support every part of athletics and promote UAB.”


The UAB cheerleaders won third place at this year’s National Championship, competing in the Division I small coed category. “We hit our best performance of the year,” Sellers says. “It was great to see the team get medals.”

Photo of Golden Girls dancing at basketball gameStephanie Feng (front row, far left), Aaliyah Toney (front row, middle), and the Golden Girls light up the court.

Vestavia Hills, Ala.; Senior, Early Childhood and Elementary Education
Career connections: “I’ve learned to work with a team, and that communication is important. We communicate with so many people in the community. I might be the first person they have come in contact with at UAB. So it’s not just about dancing. I’m an ambassador for UAB.”
Balancing schoolwork and spirit: “It’s a lot of time management. I have to set up each week: This is the game we have, here is when I practice, here is the homework to do. It can be tough, because there’s not really a time we don’t have something happening.”

Winfield, Ala.; Senior, Elementary Education
Welcoming environment: “When you walk on campus, you notice its diversity. You see a lot of different ages and races. It’s a beautiful atmosphere. And the spirit team is welcoming. They want to teach you and see you get better. They’re curious about you as a person, not just your skill.”
Winning moment: “The 2017 football game against Louisiana Tech [which UAB won by blocking a field-goal attempt on the final play] was the best ever. Everyone was so excited. At that moment I thought, ‘I love UAB, and I’m so glad I got to experience this.’”

Wetumpka, Ala.; Senior, Marketing
Career prep: “Being a cheerleader has taught me time management, because I always have a deadline to meet. It’s also taught me how to work with and talk to people, because we have to work as a team to meet a specific goal.
Game highlights: “The blocked field goal was crazy. We were all wrapped up in the moment. There was also a men’s basketball game last year where they hit a last-second layup to win. Any game where the crowd is going crazy and it all works out is unforgettable because of the roller-coaster emotions.”

Huntsville, Ala.; Sophomore, Biomedical Engineering
Demanding workouts: “We run laps before every practice, usually a mile or half-mile. Every Monday and Wednesday we do a morning workout. We do squats, cardio, abs—a lot of different things to make sure we have the stamina to perform.”
Personal victory: “Football coming back was one thing motivating me to join the spirit team. The first time we ran out onto Legion Field was an amazing moment, seeing all the people in Birmingham supporting UAB.”

Photo of 1989 dance team with Beauregard T. RoosterUAB's original dance team and cheerleader squad debuted alongside men's basketball in 1978. Here, the 1989 Golden Girls pose with then-mascot Beauregard T. Rooster.

• See the spirit teams in action at UAB football, women's basketball, men's basketball, and volleyball games.

Published March 2018