The Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders host a cheerleading clinic for youth ages 5 to 13

The Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders host a cheerleading clinic for youth ages 5 to 13

A group of girls dances on the sidelines at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia during last year’s Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders Junior Cheerleading Clinic.

When Jessica Gonzalez was 8 years old, she attended the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders Junior Cheerleading clinic.

On Nov. 9, Gonzalez — 28 years old — will participate in her fifth clinic as an Eagles Cheerleader.

“I started playing the sport when I was very young,” said Gonzalez, the current captain. “For me, going to the Eagles clinic was an opportunity to see my role models and dance with the women I looked up to and wanted to be when I was growing up.”

The Eagles Junior Cheerleading Clinic is open to cheerleaders and aspiring cheerleaders ages 5 to 13.

“We wanted to create an affordable clinic for families,” said Barbara Zaun, Eagles Cheerleading Director. “In this way, children who are not involved in a cheerleading group in their community or a school group are given the opportunity to be a cheerleader for a day.”

Zaun coached the Eagles from 1999 to 2001 and took over as manager in mid-2001.

“It’s been an incredible 12 years,” he said.

When the girls arrive at the clinic, they are divided into age groups: 5 and 6, 7 and 8, 9 and 10 and 11 and 13 years.

“After that, we divided them into skill levels within the age groups, so that the girls can have more individual attention,” said Zaun.

Gonzalez said she and the other 37 members of the Arrano Cheerleading team will begin warming up and stretching with the girls as participants meet and become friends with the girls on their team.

Members of the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleading squad teach choreography to a group of girls at last year’s Junior Cheerleading Clinic.

“Then we teach everyone an animation sequence and a dance sequence,” Gonzalez said. “Each team will perform their dance outside Lincoln Financial Field in front of an audience of family and friends.”

He said each team will take the field on its own so everyone can enjoy their time “in the spotlight.”

“The most important benefit of cheerleading is building confidence and self-esteem,” Zaun said. “To learn cheers and learn choreography, having to go out on the field right away is a real confidence builder.”

Gonzalez, who has two bachelor’s degrees — one in biology and one in criminal justice — said the best part about working with young cheerleaders is knowing exactly how they feel.

“I know how I felt when I was younger watching them, and seeing the ones who keep coming back year after year because they love it is the best,” she said. “It’s great to see the smiles on their faces and know they’re having fun.”

Each participant will receive a set of pom poms, a personalized wristband and lanyard, a photo with the Eagles Cheerleaders and a poster of the entire 2013 Eagles Cheerleaders Squad.

The Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders Junior Cheerleading Clinic will be held on November 9th at Lincoln Financial Field with two sessions: the first session from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and the second session from 12:30 to 4 p.m.

Tickets are $65 ($55 for Eagles Kids Club members) and can be purchased at www.philadelphiaeagles.com/cheerleaders/jrcheer.html.

Contact staff writer Kelly Roncace at 856-686-3647 or kroncace@southjerseymedia.com.

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