Cheer leader: 48-year-old tries out to be a Saintsation

ACAC trainer Gina Ostarly, No. 14, auditioned for the Saintsations April 17. Had she made the team, she would have been the oldest cheerleader in the NFL. Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr. ACAC trainer Gina Ostarly, No. 14, auditioned for the Saintsations April 17. Had she made the team, she would have been the oldest cheerleader in the NFL. Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr.

One local woman proved that age is only a number when she auditioned for the New Orleans Saints’ official cheerleading team, the Saintsations, April 17.

A personal trainer at ACAC and a New Orleans native, 48-year-old Gina Ostarly spent last Sunday performing a choreographed dance routine on the Saints’ practice field at its team headquarters in Metairie, Louisiana. Though she was cut before the final auditions, she’s thankful for what she calls an empowering experience.

“I think it’s important to never leave this world with regret,” Ostarly says. “There are so many things that we don’t do just because we’re scared of failing.”

Auditioning is a five-step process, and after registering and attending optional workshops, each woman gathered last week for the preliminary tryouts. Ostarly says roughly 100 Saintsation hopefuls tried out for the team, which is fewer than the 200 who usually come out. Cuts were made during the first day of auditions, and the list of ladies who were selected to move on was posted by the end of the night.

“I was, of course, disappointed that I didn’t get to go on,” Ostarly says, adding that she’s considering trying out again next year, even if just for the same positive experience. For this audition, she hired a personal dance coach last November to help her prepare. After all, she hadn’t cheered or had any formal dance training since she graduated from high school 30 years ago.

Making the Saintsations is about more than just pom-poms and dance progressions, Ostarly says. All candidates who are selected to move past the preliminaries must go through a lengthy interview process with business leaders from the greater New Orleans region and complete a written football knowledge test as part of the semifinal auditions.

So, although Ostarly says loving football is in her blood, she made flash cards to help her memorize each NFL conference, division and team. She was also prepared to list which teams won the past five Super Bowls and where each Super Bowl was located, how many players are on the field at one time and their various positions, coaches’ names and key players.

If selected for a final audition, the cheerleaders perform a routine in small groups and are evaluated on technical skills, overall dance performance and speaking skills. Before a candidate introduces herself at the preliminaries, she has already turned in an application that consists of a résumé, personal essay, letters of recommendation and references.

“It’s been time-consuming,” Ostarly says. In her personal essay, she wrote about her passion for football and the city of New Orleans, and said that though her cheerleading experience is limited, as a personal trainer she cheers on her clients in every session.

If Ostarly had made the team, she would have been the oldest cheerleader in NFL history, to her knowledge. However, she says a 68-year-old woman was also auditioning, and a 40-year-old has cheered for the Saintsations in the past. Most NFL cheerleaders are between 18 and 25 years old, she says. And though Ostarly didn’t make the team this time, she says she doesn’t regret the experience.

“There’s never anything to lose,” Ostarly says. “Whether you succeed or you fail, it’s all about the process and you’re going to come out a better person.”

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