Many football fans do whatever they can to buy the best seats for their favorite games –but what if you could be on the sideline cheering for your home team? That was where Ashley Gardner, now an assistant coach for Eastern’s cheerleading squad, was for many NFL Houston Texans’ games.
Gardner has had more than 15 years of experience as a cheerleader and coach. Beginning her college career with a track and field scholarship to LSU from 2000 to 2004, she then moved on to become a cheerleader for the Texans from 2006 to 2009.
Along with being a line captain for two years, Gardner was also named MVP by her teammates, an award based on a cheerleader’s dance ability and leadership qualities. She represented the Texans in the 2009 Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii.
As one of two assistant coaches, Gardner, who started last semester, helps train the girls at their weekly workouts, choreographs their routines and halftime performances and helps with fundraising.
“I needed to challenge myself in new ways,” Gardner said when asked about the change in her career. “There’s a whole world out there that I want to experience. I want to live life without regrets.”
Head Coach Rebecca Nadelhoffer couldn’t be happier with her new assistant coach.
“She brings a fresh element and a whole new energy to the team,” Nadelhoffer said of Gardner. “The girls get really excited when they learn a new dance move.”
Eastern’s cheerleaders could not agree more. Junior Christine Atkins remarked that Gardner is a “good role model,” and sophomore Julie Miele said that she has a “joyful spirit that bubbles over into everything she does.”
But sophomore Alleigh Rigg’s comment said it all: “I want to be her.”
To those that say cheerleading is not a sport, Gardner heartily disagrees. To her, cheerleading is just as much a sport as any other–a combination of leadership, agility and athletic ability. Her time with the Texans was enough to teach her that.
“(Texans cheerleaders) are professionals: teachers, nurses, lawyers, anything you can think of,” she said. “This is something that they’re passionate about that they do on the side. It’s an awesome sport to be a part of.”
Originally from Houston, Texas, Gardner came to Philadelphia in search of something new. Having fallen in love with the city life, she now lives there.
“Philadelphia is very rich in the arts and culture,” she said. “The East Coast is just a different way of life than the one I had in Houston.”
Armed with a B.S. in business management with a focus in entrepreneurship, Gardner soon found a job with a small start-up business in Center City. That was when she first learned about Eastern and its graduate business program. She is now pursuing her MBA in business administration.
“Entrepreneurship is one of my passions, so to be able to take that to the next level is very appealing to me,” Gardner said. “I also really like the Eastern approach of talking through the issues in class; it’s more applicable to life.”
Another draw for Gardner in going to Eastern is that it is a Christian school, something that Gardner holds very highly.
“My relationship with God is what got me to where I am today,” she said. “He’s the center of everything I do, and I’ll be the first to say that.”
And what does she think of the Eastern cheerleaders?
“They’re fun people to be around and make practice enjoyable,” she said. “Also, I’ve not heard of any gossiping on the team, and the cheerleading world can be very gossipy. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing but love on this team.”