It's Saturday. It's fall. College football is in the air. As a fan, the anticipation of getting up and heading to the game is all you can think about during the week. From the color and pageantry from tailgating to watching the game and heading home win or lose, only to get up and do it all over again the following week. That is just part of the game day festivities. We all know what takes place in the stands and on the field, but what about the sidelines? I don't mean the players on the sidelines. I am talking about the cheerleaders. You can go ahead and laugh, that's ok, but in all seriousness, let's shine some light on the beautiful young ladies that grace the sidelines every autumn Saturday and make college football special.
Who are the cheerleaders, you ask? Well, there is one young lady I am going to put the spotlight on. Her name is Sidnei Aguilar. Clemson cheerleaders come from all over the world. Some come from big cities, some come from metropolitan areas, and some come from small, rural communities. It really doesn't get any smaller than Commerce, Georgia. A small town with less than 3,000 people, the local high school has roughly 300 students. On a Friday night during football season, the most people watching her cheer from the stands would be 1,500 or so. Imagine, for a moment, an 18-year-old kid going from that to 80,000 plus on any given Saturday in Death Valley!
Sidnei's path to Clemson wasn't easy. Of course, no path ever is, but in her eyes, the journey has been worth it. Make no bones about it: Sidnei grew up rooting for the hometown Georgia Bulldogs. Her hometown of Commerce is just a stone's throw from Athens, so it was a full-circle moment for her when the Tigers opened the season in Charlotte against UGA last season . Some of her family members were "ALL IN" with the Tigers, and a few still donned the red and black. Still, there stood Sidnei, smiling with her family while wearing the orange and purple Clemson cheerleading uniform. Let's get back to her journey. As with anyone who attended college, Sidnei has had a lot of help and mentoring along the way. Obviously, it starts with family. Then it trickles down to your coaches, and finally one or two of your closest true friends.
In Sidnei's case, that friend is Dom Yonce. Their relationship began as teammates, and then he became her coach. Just to give you an idea of how close they were, Dom once asked Sidnei for haircut advice, and Sydnei suggested he shave her name into his head. Sure enough, he did just that. According to Sidnei, Dom expected nothing but greatness from her. He had bigger dreams for Sidnei than she had for herself, and Dom did everything to make sure she realized those dreams. Sidnei never once thought that being a big-time college cheerleader was possible, and without Dom, she admits that she would have given up on herself. Yet here she is, and thanks to that special friend, not only were his dreams for her realized, but they had become her dreams as well. Tragically, Dom never got to see the realization of their hard work. During her senior year in high school, Sidnei's best friend and mentor passed away. Gone but not forgotten, as Sidnei carries him with her every day. When she feels like things are getting to be too much, she can hear him scream her name with excitement and motivation. Sidnei truly believes that without Dom, she wouldn't be where she is today.
Sidnei is now a senior at Clemson and still smiling. Saturdays in the fall are special in these parts. Whether she has to start early in the morning to get ready for a noon kickoff or go late in the night, one thing is for certain: if you find her on the sideline, and look closely, you can see the exuberance and verve that Dom instilled in her. The excitement that cheerleaders bring to the game doesn't resonate just on the sideline. For her, it begins at practice. On game day, it fills the stands and swells beyond them as well. Smiling for the cameras and taking pictures after a long day, whether the Tigers win or lose, with kids who have dreams of being the next Sidnei. It happens in the parking lot during Tiger Walk, and as the band marches past Fort Hill into the Memorial Stadium on game day.
So the next time you are in the Valley for a game, stop by and acknowledge a cheerleader. Any of them. They work just as hard as everyone else to make game day at Clemson as special as it can be. However, keep in mind that behind the make-up, glitz and glamour that is a Clemson cheerleader is still a real person. Upon graduation, most go off to work in their respective professions and the only other thing they take with them is the memories. As for Sidnei, take a moment to close your eyes and give a huge thanks to Dom, her mentor. For her, that would be the greatest compliment one could give.
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