Caldwell native Kelsey Cornwell knows she needs to tone down her Patriots fandom a bit if she’s going to maintain professionalism at her new job.
It’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make.
The 24-year-old Vallivue High graduate grew up dancing at Nampa’s Centre Stage Studios but had never been a cheerleader until a few months ago. That includes her time at Vallivue and the University of Nevada, where she took a break from dancing completely and focused on attaining her biology degree.
Cornwell also grew up a New England Patriots fan, rooting for quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick from the time she was 7.
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Fast-forward to April 1, 2017, when Cornwell was named a member of the team’s cheerleading squad, and the whole journey still seems a little surreal.
“People always accuse me of being a bandwagoner, and I’ll admit that,” Cornwell said. “I’m going to have to be focused on not yelling (during games).”
Cornwell’s journey to the Patriots was hardly typical. After sitting out any sort of dancing during her collegiate days, Cornwell admits her life was at somewhat of a crossroads. Degree in hand, she figured her days as a dancer were over and her professional life was beginning.
While working at a pathology laboratory in Reno, Cornwell tried out for the Reno Bighorns (NBA Development League) dance team at the suggestion of a friend; Cornwell wanted something to do in her free time. She made the team in August 2015.
Antonia Polan, Cornwell’s dance team director with the Bighorns and a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader, piqued Cornwell’s interest in cheering for a professional team. Though she had never done it before, the idea of cheering intrigued her.
Polan saw Cornwell’s evolution firsthand and watched with delight as her student gained conviction in her abilities.
“Kelsey has always been a hard worker, and is very laser-focused when it comes to achieving her dance goals. I’ve definitely seen her walls drop away over the last few years when it comes to performing. She isn’t the quiet young lady I first met,” Polan said. “She has always been a strong dancer, but there is a strength to her now that is mesmerizing to watch.”
Cornwell found a posting for a Patriots tryout online and signed up. She began a six-week process that involved flights back and forth between Massachusetts and Nevada.
If she was going to take the plunge into an unknown world, it was going to be for the team with five Super Bowl titles.
“It was something I had thought about years prior … it was kind of a dream,” Cornwell said. “I’ve always been a Patriots fan. I realized if I was going to cheer, I would cheer for the Patriots.”
While balancing her life in the lab, she entered a somewhat new world that involved learning routines in 30 minutes and the expectation of perfect execution.
After a few rounds of cuts, Cornwell made it to the finals. Another wrench was then thrown at her: participation in a pageant, which was part of the final selection process.
A swimsuit walk and speaking into a microphone were things she had never done. The latter had always been a nightmare.
“It was definitely new to me,” Cornwell said. “I have a fear of public speaking.”
A group of about 60 made it to the Patriots’ cheerleading boot camp. On April 1 the final group of 34 cheerleaders was selected. When Cornwell found out she was among them, she was at a loss for words.
While it was never something she imagined doing, Cornwell’s road had led her to Foxborough, Mass. That still gives her chills.
“For the last few months it’s been something I’ve been imagining and wanting. When it happened, I thought I was going to cry,” Cornwell said. “I got on the plane (home) and it all kind of hit.”
Cornwell’s job as a Patriots cheerleader is not full time; she found out Wednesday she had received a job at a hospital in Boston.
Packing up her life and moving across the country is certainly going to be different, especially since she has only been cheering for a short time. But the chance to cheer on her favorite quarterback makes it worthwhile.
“I love Tom Brady. And I’ll be right there cheering them on,” Cornwell said. “That will be amazing.”