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Youngstown native Shawnta Gooden will cheer on the Eagles today.



Published: Sat, February 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Youngstown native Shawnta Gooden will cheer on the Eagles today.

PHILADELPHIA -- Many new faces will be making their way onto the biggest stage of their careers at Super Bowl XXXIX on Sunday. Each may be able to rely on their years of athletic competition to get past any pre-game nerves.

Youngstown's Shawnta Gooden will be one of those many.

As a rookie Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader, Gooden, 30, will be relying on her years of track and field to help her succeed in front of millions of spectators.

"You will always be nervous as an athlete or performer," Gooden said Wednesday. "Once you get out there and start performing, you lose that. The nervousness goes away and you just enjoy the moment."

Gooden ran track at Ursuline where she made all-state in 1992. Her 400-meter relay team still holds the school record at 50.3 seconds.

Competitive process

Gooden said she used her background as an athlete to help her become an Eagles cheerleader. She said just getting on the squad is very competitive.

The process started last March with a pre-audition workshop. Approximately 600 showed up for the open call two weeks later. Potential cheerleaders would line up to perform 10 at a time in front of 13 judges. After two rounds of elimination, 180 went into the semifinals. At the finals, 60-70 remained to compete for the final 38 spots.

"Making the squad is like starting off in district trying to get to the state meet," Gooden said. "You knew what the final goal was, but the immediate goal was to get to the next step."

Gooden said her athletic background gave her an advantage.

"People who may not have athletic backgrounds would think of immediate goal," she said. "It [athletic experience] helps to prepare mentally and physically. It helps to find your sports zone."

When she reached the finals, each candidate had to go up alone in front of a panel of 25 judges. There, Gooden was able to recall her best piece of athletic advice.

"I can hear my dad saying, 'Never leave anything undone,' " Gooden said. "As nervous as I was, I could not say I can't go further. You would have felt worse had you gone there and not completed your job."

Trend-setters

Gooden was a cheerleader in high school and at Hampton University. But much of the comparisons end there.

"At this level, there is a lot more dance technique involved as opposed to college or high school," said Gooden, who graduated from Hampton with a degree in Mass Media Arts. "... We try to set the bar higher. We try to be trend-setters."

Gooden said the Eagles cheerleaders will not be able to perform on the field as at Eagles home games.

"We still will be able to perform on the sidelines," said Gooden, who also has a Masters in Public Administration. "We just won't be on the field."

The cheerleaders will be staying on a cruise ship a "stone's throw from the stadium." And her stay in Jacksonville, Fla., will be hectic.

"From the time we get there [Thursday] until the time we board the plane to go back to Philadelphia, we will be busy."

Though Sunday's performances will be on football's biggest stage, Gooden will have track and field to rely on.

"I wish I could join a track league here because I miss track," Gooden said. "I miss the one-on-one competitiveness running a race."




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