Danielle Rodgers won’t be in Memphis on Friday night cheering on the Butler Bulldogs, but she may have played a small role in helping the team get to where it is.
The freshman from Columbus East has been a cheerleader for Butler this season, cheering at home football and men’s basketball games and some volleyball and women’s basketball contests. The men’s basketball team has advanced to this weekend’s Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for Rodgers, only the junior and senior cheerleaders travel to Butler road games and NCAA Tournament contests. But she may have that chance in a couple of years.
“I think it would be amazing to have an opportunity like that,” Rodgers said. “It would be quite an honor, and maybe one day, that will come true.”
Rodgers has a gymnastics background, competing for Jody’s Gymnastic Zone from age three through eighth grade. She also cheered at Central Middle School and her first two years at East, making the varsity basketball cheer squad as a sophomore.
After that, Rodgers gave up cheerleading to focus on soccer. She was an honorable-mention All-Hoosier Hills Conference player as a junior and senior.
“Cheering has always been fun for Danielle,” said her mother, Diane Rodgers. “She’s always loved cheerleading, but she chose soccer for her last couple years of high school. She loved soccer, too, but injuries kind of plagued her at the end, and she was tired of being hurt.”
So last April, near the end of her senior year, Danielle tried out for the cheer squad at Butler. She practiced with Lanell Christensen, who had coached her in middle school and as a freshman at East.
About 60 boys and girls tried out for the Butler cheer squad, and a little more than half made it.
“I always go in with an open mind, and I try to stay positive,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t go in there thinking, ‘I’m the best. I’m going to make it.’ I think everyone has their doubts, but at one point I was really nervous because I was looking around at the competition, and they had a lot of skills. I had to push a factor that made me stand out as an individual.”
That factor was her strength. Rodgers had maintained her upper-body strength by doing flip throw-ins in soccer, but her tumbling needed a little work.
Butler coaches were looking for cheerleaders who could do standing tucks and roundoff backhandspring layouts, and Rodgers fit the bill.
“Very much in tryouts, it played a big impact on me making the team,” she said. “I definitely thought I had the skills to make it, but what it came down to was what the team needed and what the team was looking for.”
After free throws, the cheerleaders go out on court and do a standing tuck. They sometimes do tuck circle in middle of the floor before the game or during timeouts.
Rodgers is a main base, but she also can do a standing tuck and hit certain stunts.
“I have a more muscular build from gymnastics, so I can get people up in the air,” she said. “I have a strong main base, but I showed that I am versatile and can do back tucks.”
Although undecided on a major, Rodgers is considering studying Communications of Sciences, Diseases and Disorders or strategic communications. Since her cheer season ended, she has joined an intramural soccer team.
Soon, Rodgers, who was one of 13 freshmen on this year’s cheer squad, will have to try out again. Tryouts for next year’s squad are April 22 and 23.
“I absolutely think I have a very good chance with a very amazing squad,” she said. “When you make it once, it’s not certain that you’ll make it again, but it gives you a very good chance.”
The Bulldogs, seeded fourth in the South Region, opened the NCAA Tournament play last week with wins against Winthrop and Middle Tennessee State. One of Rodgers’ professors canceled class the afternoon of the opener against Winthrop so students could watch the game.
Friday night, Butler faces top-seeded North Carolina.
“I feel like I have a whole Butler family and community behind me,” Rodgers said. “Every time I go to practice, there’s always a family vibe and a huge laughter in the air that makes me feel like I’m part of something special. It’s been a special part to my Butler experience this year.”
NCAA South Regional
7:09 p.m.: Butler (25-8) vs. North Carolina (29-7), CBS
9:40 p.m.: Kentucky (31-5) vs. UCLA (31-4), CBS
TBA: Championship, CBS