Boys aren't the only ones who dream of making it to the National Football League.
Nearly 200 girls wanting a glimpse of professional football cheerleading are spending the weekend with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad. The 12th annual junior cheerleading clinic started today, with the 30 cheerleaders introducing a three-minute choreographed routine to a popular Miley Cyrus tune.
The camp at Jefferson High School continues Sunday. It culminates Friday when the girls, ages 6 to 17, perform during halftime of the preseason matchup between the Bucs and Houston Texans at Raymond James Stadium.
"We hope the girls get out of it a great mentoring program from our NFL cheerleaders," Sandy Charboneau, the Bucs' cheerleading manager, said of the annual clinic.
Tomoko Kojima, a Bucs cheerleader in her seventh season, said the camp differs from other public events because she can identify with the girls, who constantly hug her and pepper her with questions. In addition to teaching a halftime routine, the squad members also teach cheers and participate in games with the campers.
"I was a little kid like them," said Kojima, who was coaching ages 6 to 8. "I saw cheerleaders and said, 'Oh, I want to be like those girls when I get older.'"
An estimated 3.5 million youngsters participate in cheerleading nationwide, according to the U.S. Sports Academy. Despite stereotypes of cheering as little more than dance in cute outfits, it is recognized as a sport by high school athletic associations and in the competitive sports club arena.
Palm Harbor teen Alexis Salzer doesn't cheer at school but hasn't missed a Bucs cheer camp for seven years. The 16-year-old said it's a place to meet friends from outside school. She also likes seeing the Bucs cheerleaders she has grown to know perform on game days.
"My family is totally into football and the Bucs," she said. "My grandma has season passes, so when we go, it's like I know them."