By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports
It’s a long way (1,638 miles) from the St. Catherine Community Center on Shreveport’s East 72nd Street to the sidelines of Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium.
It’s a Super Bowl Sunday trip Winter-Noelle Grant is about to make — one that’s been in the works for 21 years.
The Shreveport native is in her first season as a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader. Hey, go big or go home, right?
“Going to the Super Bowl your rookie year is unheard of,” Grant said. “I’m just very grateful for it.”
Grant moved to Cincinnati from Nashville last spring. She didn’t have a job. She didn’t have an apartment.
What she did have: a dream. And fierce determination.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make the team, but I moved here and knew I had to make it work.”
Grant had been refining her skills in the “Sideline Prep” program. That’s where former NFL and NBA professional dancers coach women who want to make it to the big leagues.
“I trained in that program for two years to prepare me for auditions,” Grant said. “My coaches suggested I move to Cincinnati, because they believed the team would be a great fit for me.”
“Surreal,” said Grant, describing what it’s like to be a NFL cheerleader. “I can definitely say ‘surreal.’
It’s so rewarding to know all of your hard work finally paid off — after years of training — finally being able to go pro.”
Grant, who is 26 years old, began preparing when she was just five. After school, she would go to St. Catherine Community Center and take dance lessons from a then 14-year-old.
“No, I’m not surprised,” said Sherricka Fields Jones, who taught Grant dance all the way through high school. “I knew that if she stuck with her training, it would prepare her for almost anything she wanted to do. She is a really hard worker. She is very motivated.”
Following her days at Eden Gardens Elementary School, it was at C.E. Byrd High School where Grant found her motivation to become an NFL cheerleader. She was a freshman member of the C.E. Byrd Highsteppers when they performed at a Dallas Cowboys game.
“That was my very first time being exposed to the world of NFL cheerleading,” Grant said. “Automatically, I knew once I graduated from college, this was what I wanted to do.”
After earning her undergraduate degree (psychology) from Fisk University in Nashville, and a master’s degree (special education teaching) from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, Grant is doing “what I want to do.” That’s in addition to being a special education teacher, and working toward a second master’s degree.
“After you go through elementary, middle, high school, and college life, what is the next step for a dancer who wants to continue to dance professionally — especially on a team?” Grant asked. “The next stop is going pro, and going to the NFL. In my heart, I always knew I wanted to become an NFL cheerleader.”
There are some impressive people with Louisiana ties who will put on their uniform for Sunday’s Super Bowl — Burrow, Beckham, Chase, Whitworth, and Taylor headlining the Bayou State contingent.
Add Winter-Noelle Grant’s name to the list.