It’s all because of an energetic student teacher named Molly.
This fall Molly has been working with the four-year-old kindergarten class as part of her practicum requirements in UW-Stout’s early childhood education program.
The students quickly took a liking to Molly, but they were surprised one day when she came to class as a special guest. She showed up in a Minnesota Vikings cheerleader outfit.
Wearing a purple-and-white skirt and top with tall white fashion boots, Molly told them about her exciting part-time job.
For the last two seasons, Molly, a UW-Stout junior, has been one of the professional cheerleaders who performs at all Vikings NFL home games and makes appearances on behalf of the team.
With the Vikings on the road Sunday, Dec. 2, in Green Bay, she won’t be on the sidelines, but chances are the children in the class will be thinking about their special friend if they happen to see the purple-clad Vikings on TV.
“She’s amazing with the kids. She really stands out as one of my top practicum students,” said Maggie Keenan, four-year-old kindergarten teacher who oversees Molly.
During her presentation to four-year-olds on campus, Molly taught children several cheerleading moves and shared pictures of herself at Vikings games.
“The kids responded really well,” said Keenan. “Now, they all think of her as Molly the cheerleader.”
Exciting and educational
Presenting to the class brought together several of Molly’s passions — getting a college education, working with young children, dance and the Vikings.
Molly, whose last name isn’t publicized because of cheerleading team privacy rules, has been a lifelong Vikings fan. She graduated from Burnsville (Minn.) High School.
Despite her love for the Vikings, she has the Green Bay Packers in her blood. One relative on her father’s side of the family played quarterback for the Packers in the 1920s and another relative, Dominic Olejniczak, was president of the team from 1958-82.
She enrolled at UW-Stout because of its strong early childhood education program. “Stout is so well known for this program. I love Stout — the campus and the people — and it’s a perfect distance from home,” Molly said.
The 150-mile roundtrip from campus to Minneapolis has made for some long nights, however. Vikings cheerleaders practice for three hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and for two hours on Sundays. If there’s a home game, they still practice for two hours before the game, she said.
Being on the team adds up to a lot of hours and miles, but she loves the excitement of running onto the field on Sundays ahead of the players and cheering them on at field level.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’re doing something amazing,” Molly said.
She believes the experience has made her a better student. She has earned the Chancellor’s Award at UW-Stout for achieving a high grade-point average. “Sometimes when you’re busy, when you just keep going, you do better,” she said.
“I’ve learned a lot of life skills and professionalism, how to act in an interview setting, for example. It’s helped my confidence and helped me so much in my speech class,” she said, adding that she has attended two NFL cheerleading clinics in Atlanta for the team.
It’s her second year on the team. She was part of the squad’s training program during her freshman year at UW-Stout and made the team as a sophomore, surviving four rounds of tryouts, an interview, a football knowledge test, a Vikings history test, a pageant at the State Theater in Minneapolis and the finals at Mall of America.
She was one of 35 women to make the team out of more than 200 who applied. At age 19 she was one of the youngest.
She enjoys the camaraderie. “We do a lot of bonding activities. They’re my best friends,” she said of her cheerleading squad teammates.
Molly has danced since age 2½. As a state-level dance competitor in high school, she was noticed by Vikings cheerleaders coaches and encouraged to try out.
Team cheerleaders must know about 30 dances. In addition to game performances, for which they are paid, they do numerous charity appearances on behalf of the team and sign autographs, often for children.
“The little kids are so excited. It’s awesome,” Molly said. “I love being on the team.”