Community cheer

Ben-Gals Tina D. (left) and Kimberly

The count since Oct. 1 on the always popular Ben-Gals Calendar is more than 25 community events and the days keep moving.

In between, Charlotte Jacobs, the ageless and relentless coach of the Bengals cheerleaders who is part den mother, part travel agent, part chairman of the board, has prepared her squad for four home games in 10 practices.

"We spend so much more time away from the field working in the community," says Tina D., who, like A.J. Green and Andy Dalton last season, had a big rookie year. "It's the majority of what we do. When we get to practice, the first thing Charlotte tells us about is the four or five events where she needs volunteers. It's the busiest part of what we do."

Just look at the comings and goings this week.

A star-studded downtown cystic fibrosis foundation fundraiser. School appearances for the Marvin Lewis Community Fund's Learning is Cool program. An event on the east side headlining awareness for automated external defibrillators. When Tina D. leaves her job Friday night as a senior financial auditor at Fifth Third Bank, she'll head to Graeter's on Mason-Montgomery Road for a children's hospice fundraiser.

November is full and with Christmas on the way, December is getting backed up with the Cowboys and Steelers also on the Ben-Gals calendar.

"It's divide and conquer," Jacobs says. "We have an average of about six ladies at an event. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But anything for kids. They all mean so much to us, but any event for children seems to be the most impactful."

There is the Ben-Gals Calendar and then there is a Ben-Gal's calendar.

The Calendar? It's always a big seller at home games, when about 90 minutes before kickoff half the squad begins taking turns at the Pro Shop signing it for a line that is always out the door. They did it again this Sunday before the Giants game and they had to go get another box after the squad signed about 150.

And then there is a Ben-Gal's calendar. Like Kimberly's calendar. It's more crowded than a fourth quarter.

Like her other 31 teammates, Kimberly's cheering career is an extra line on the resume and not the resume. Along with studying for her master's at Wright State in student affairs for higher education, she's working as a graduate assistant for the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education, a regional consortium of colleges and universities. Her stint as a graduate intern at the alumni association for her alma mater of Miami University ended in October.

Talk about needing a bye week in this, her third season on the squad.

"It's tough for me to do the community events because on the nights I don't have class we usually have practice," says Kimberly, 25. "I do them when I can. They're some of the best moments I've had with the squad."

Kimberly and Tina D. are both going to be at Graeter's on Friday, but their month is going to be topped off after Thanksgiving when they head to Tacoma, Wash., to visit the troops at Fort Lewis. The NFL cheerleaders are part of the 13th annual flag football Army-Navy Game and Jacobs has chosen them for the Nov. 30 assignment.

"It's a 36-hour whirlwind. The only down time they'll have is when they're on the plane," Jacobs says. "There's not only the game, but there are families on the post and there's going to be a lot of interaction at various events."

They are treating it like being named to an all-star team. "It's an honor for me to represent my squad and to get a chance to say thank you to the troops," Tina D. says. "I've never had a chance to do that."

Kimberly was an alternate two years ago when a contingent of Ben-Gals went to Iraq, a trip they're still talking about. "The girls are so appreciative of how accommodating they were and how enthusiastic they were received," she said. "I get chills when I hear them talk about it. It's a great thrill for me to be able to give back to them because they do so much for us."

It turns out the calendar of a Ben-Gal isn't as glossy as a Ben-Gals Calendar. The other night?

Kimberly is working on a project at her job involving the assessment of the rate students that are involved in service activities give back to their college and universities. She didn't get home until late and there was no time to hit the gym, which she does four times a week on top of the practices.

"So I went down to my basement, turned on the music and just danced for an hour straight," Kimberly says. "That way I was able to get my cardio in as well as get ready for the dances we had to do the next night in practice."

After practice there are nights Jacobs has the girls run under the stands at Paul Brown Stadium for about a half an hour, but Tina D. and Kimberly prefer doing intervals at their own workouts. "It keeps me from being bored," Tina D. says and Kimberly, who may break up her studying with her daily 200 situps, says it simulates the crazed pace they get in a game with high-paced dances between lulls.

"A lot of it is diet, too," Kimberly says. "But that doesn't mean starving yourself. It just means eating what is good for you."

After she got cut five years ago in her first tryout for the Ben-Gals, Tina D. overhauled everything including diet when she gave it another shot in two years. At 30 and one of the older squad members, she sounds like a former first-round pick that lost her job and got it back.  

"I don't think I understood what it took, the commitment you need," Tina D. says. "I met some people who gave me advice on what to do and it got me encouraged again. The level of dedication for working out, diet, dancing. Everything. I had to have a mindset change."

In the end, the six-year-old from New Richmond, Ohio, who cried in front of the TV set when the Bengals got beat by Joe Montana in the last 34 Super Bowl seconds holding a sign she made got the last word.

But it's a juggling act.

"It's like having two 40-hour-a-week jobs," Tina D. says. "I'm well into my career at the bank. I've been there 10 years and that takes a lot of time with meetings and appointments. The day is full. We've all got that time commitment. We either all have jobs or are going to school. But we love it."

The games all run together, but they remember the kids. They remember their faces, too. Kimberly had one of her all-time Ben-Gal moments away from the glitz when she was working out at her gym and a lady that had seen her at one of the events approached her.

"We see you every year and we love it when you guys are there cheering; you're so kind," the lady said.

Tina D. always makes sure she attends the Down's Syndrome walks downtown because she has a cousin with Down's and while she may have broken in with A.J. and Dalton and she loves the excitement they've brought back to the team, one of her moments is Tiffany.

One of the first things she did when she made the squad was go to Kings Island with about 15 of her teammates with a young girl named Tiffany. Tiffany had a host of medical problems and that was her request. She wanted to go to Kings Island with the Ben-Gals.

"It was fun," Tina D. says. "It was fun to meet her. It was fun to help. Just to make her life a little bit better."

It turns out the calendar of a Ben-Gal is a big seller, too.

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