Since she was in middle school, Caroline Bowman had attended nearly every Indianapolis Colts home game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Through the wins and losses, the Seymour native loved being around the Colts fans and the atmosphere of the stadium.
Last year, she gained a new perspective, as she got to run out on the field, take her position on the sideline and cheer for the team as a Colts cheerleader.
It’s an experience she said she will never forget.
“Hearing the crowd roar when we score a touchdown, the streamers coming down and looking into the stadium at fans high-fiving each other and doing our touchdown dance, there is no feeling like it,” the 23-year-old said. “There were several moments I had last season where I would just take a second, look around and think, ‘Wow! This is real life.’”
This season, she will get the opportunity again.
She recently went through the audition process and landed one of the 26 spots on the team.
“The audition process is tough. It is a long week that is physically and mentally tough but so worth it,” she said. “It was a great feeling hearing my number called for the second year. They say auditioning for your second year is the hardest, as your entire rookie season is basically an audition, and you also know what you have to lose if you don’t make it back.”
When it came time for auditions, Bowman said she knew she wanted to give it another shot.
“I had the most amazing rookie season ever,” she said. “It was so much more than I ever thought it would be. Everyone was so kind and welcoming and professional. It was always my dream, and I got to live it, so why wouldn’t I audition again and hopefully experience another amazing season with the Colts? It was kind of a no-brainer.”
Prep classes were conducted once a week for five weeks leading up to the auditions, where the candidates learned a routine and learned what to expect during the season. Bowman said she also worked out and ate right so she would be able to perform her best.
“Having gone through the audition process before definitely helped knowing what to expect, but I’m not sure it made it any easier,” she said. “I was still nervous and just doing everything I could to hopefully make the team again.”
Nearly 100 women were a part of the preliminary round at the Colts Complex. About 15 minutes after learning a routine, they split into groups of three to perform the routine in front of the judges.The group was cut to 50 finalists, who advanced to the finals week and showcase. That consisted of a fitness test (push-ups, sit-ups and cardio test), and they learned another routine for the showcase and were judged on it along with flexibility and showmanship.
The process also involved a business interview with Colts executives and a football test on their knowledge of the game.
The final showcase is about 50 percent of each candidate’s score.
“In the showcase, we have an opening number. We come out in groups of three and perform as well as an individual solo,” Bowman said. “Then the team is announced for the audience, and we perform for the first time as the new squad.”
Bowman said she was overwhelmed when she heard her number called to be on the team.
“I had tears in my eyes after hearing my number. There is nothing like it,” she said. “I think to stand out for the judges, you just have to be yourself and confident.”
Practices recently began, and Bowman said she is excited to get to know her teammates and work hard for the upcoming season.
“I am looking forward to honestly everything,” she said. “I am excited to get to know the new women and create memories with them, and I am just excited for everything that this season will bring.”
Rookie, but not a newbie
Cheerleading has been a longtime sport for Bowman. She started dancing when she was 2 and then became a competitive dancer. She was a cheerleader during her time at Seymour High School until graduating in 2012, and then she joined the Ladybirds dance team at the University of Louisville.In the spring of 2016, she helped the Ladybirds win a pair of national championships before trying out for the Colts cheerleading squad and making the team. She also earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology.
The cheerleaders attended training camp in the summer, learning the 15 routines for the season in three days.
During games, they performed either pregame or halftime, danced between the first- and second-quarter break and third- and fourth-quarter break and danced three times during the game in a short break.
“So total during a game, we dance up to six times,” Bowman said. “We only perform the same routine twice at a game, so we are always learning new routines throughout the year even after our training camp so that we have fresh, new routines for our fans to watch.”
Practices, led by Colts cheerleader manager Kelly Tilley, are from 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays to review the routines they will be performing at the next game. Tuesday practices are at a dance studio, and Thursday nights are at the Colts Complex.
“At the end of Thursday’s practices, we then have our trainer come, and we work out with him after our normal practice is complete,” Bowman said.
She also had practices Tuesdays and Thursday in college, but those were only for a couple of hours.
“Another aspect that is different, you have to practice before practice,” Bowman said. “I know that sounds silly, but our practice time isn’t for you to just be learning the routine or kind of know the routine. You have to come in already having spent a couple hours working on and learning the routine so when you get to practice, you know it well enough that there are few mistakes.
“In college, we would just show up and find out then what routines we are going to do, where Colts, we know a week ahead of time what routines to come to practice knowing,” she said.
On game day, the cheerleaders arrive about six hours before kickoff to rehearse. More than an hour is spent on a full field rehearsal, where they practice and prepare for the game. They are given about an hour to get ready for the game and eat.
“Then when the doors open to the stadium, we are all on an appearance throughout the stadium, signing autographs and taking pictures and interacting with the fans,” Bowman said. “We then head down to the field and it’s game time.”
Last year, including preseason and regular-season games, Bowman cheered at 10 games.
More than football
Outside of practices and games, the cheerleaders also make several appearances in the community and work with junior cheerleaders.“We have a junior cheer program where once a month, we practice with our junior cheerleaders and then they get to perform with us at Lucas Oil several times,” Bowman said. “We also have a summer camp for a week during the summer where girls come and learn routines and get to experience a little what it’s like to be a Colts cheerleader.”
Bowman said one of the most memorable moments from the 2016-17 season was when the Colts traveled to Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame game. Even though the football game was canceled due to the field conditions, the cheerleaders still participated in several activities.
They opened for the Tim McGraw concert, did several performances for fans, signed autographs and got to watch the Hall of Fame induction speeches.
“The reason it was so memorable, everywhere we went, people would be whispering, ‘I think those are the cheerleaders,’ ‘Look, the Colts cheerleaders,’” Bowman said. “We had security escorting us everywhere and opening doors. It was the first moment I was like, ‘Wow! I made it. I am a Colts cheerleader.’ It was something I will never forget.”
Throughout the season, Bowman said she grew a lot as a person and in ways she didn’t expect.
“I am much more outgoing and confident,” she said. “Throughout the season, I came across situations I wasn’t used to, whether that be going up to complete strangers and having conversations with them to getting out of my comfort zone and being a leader in situations where it was needed. I grew so much this past year on and off the field.”
As she begins her second season as a Colts cheerleader, Bowman is pursuing her master’s degree in applied behavior analysis therapy from Ball State University. The program is online, so she is able to balance school with practices and appearances.
Her ultimate goal is to work with children with autism.
For anyone wanting to follow in Bowman’s footsteps, she offered some advice.
“To never give up, put yourself out there and give it your all,” she said. “If you go through it and gave it your all and still didn’t make it, you have no regrets in knowing you did your absolute best.”
Name: Caroline Bowman
Education: Seymour High School (2012); University of Louisville (bachelor’s degree in psychology, 2016); currently pursuing a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis therapy from Ball State University
Occupation: Indianapolis Colts cheerleader