Avid NFL fans in Carthage will recognize one of those gorgeous smiles from the sidelines.
Allison Peterson, the 2015 Maple Leaf Queen and a 2017 Carthage High School graduate, is getting ready for her second season of professional cheer with the Minnesota Vikings.
After graduating fifth in her class from high school, Allison went on to dance and study at St. Olaf College (Minn.) She graduated in 2021 with degrees in both Dance and Economics – while making the dance team three years and serving as captain for one.
She gained experience with CompanyDance – a concert dance group – and taught recreational and competition dance on weeknights at Division Street Dance for three years. She was a Universal Dance Association instructor for two years, and traveled during the summer to teach dance team camps across the Midwest. She said one of her best experiences was the opportunity to join the week-long Rockettes Summer Intensive program for three years.
“As cliché as it sounds, dance has always been an integral part of my identity,” Allison said. “I didn’t always have my sights set on doing it at a professional level but when I was in high school I really started wanting to take it further. I am so glad I ended up at St. Olaf. Not only there could I learn more about concert dance and dance as artistic expression, but I met Megan Sather – who introduced me to the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders.”
Allison’s passion for the Viking cheer program was instant, and she quickly developed friendships (and mentorships) that continue to this day. In 2019, she auditioned for the team even though she was previously accepted for an opportunity in the fall to study business abroad in Milan, Italy and tutor Milanese children in English.
“I knew this was a once of a lifetime opportunity and accepted the offer to study abroad – it was a week before I planned to audition,” Allison said of her first time to audition for the class that precedes the cheer audition. “I decided to show up to the audition and see if they would let me participate for the experience, knowing that I would be gone in Milan during football season. I was so thrilled they said yes! I stayed for the first couple rounds of the audition until being cut. That audition did two things for me: showed me all the things I needed to improve upon to make the team, and light a fire underneath me to do so … I hadn’t felt that passionate about a specific organization ever in my life.”
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. Allison’s next audition went digital-only, and the team was unable to take on any new members at all. Her senior year was when everything fell into place.
“The third time truly was the charm,” Allison said, still relishing in excitement. “I cherish the video of me receiving the call and hearing the news that I made the team. It was three years in the making, and that summer was truly one of the best summers of my life. I graduated from St. Olaf College, moved into Minneapolis, started my first job as an Apparel Inventory Analyst at Target Corporate, and could officially call myself a Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader.”
The first season was a whirlwind – thrown into a world of learning game material, costume fittings, appearances, photo shoots and workouts. Allison said her biggest obstacle was herself.
“I am hard on myself and can easily nitpick how I am performing at practices and on game day,” she said. “It was, and still is, so easy for me to get wrapped up in my performance on the team that I forget where I am. I would catch myself on the sidelines during a game thinking too hard about my output that I wouldn’t be soaking up the fact that I am on the sidelines of an NFL field, doing what I love more than anything in the world, for 60,000 fans. Yes, I needed to work hard and make sure I am meeting and exceeding the standards set for me by my teammates and coaches, but through mindfulness I could enjoy all the moments along the way.”
Going into her second season, Allison said she has learned there are some misconceptions about professional cheerleading. She was happy to share what it’s like behind-the-scenes.
“Being an NFL cheerleader is so much more than what meets the eye and what stereotypes portray it to be,” Allison said. “A cheerleader is a professional, an athlete, a teammate, a brand ambassador, and a dancer. We attend community events weekly, and I view it this way – Whether they live far from Minneapolis, work on Sundays, or are unable to afford a ticket, there are Vikings fans who may never make it to a game in their life. Cheerleaders get the opportunity to meet these fans where they are and bring the Vikings with us wherever we go. Just in the last year, I have attended a memorial golf tournament for a former Vikings fan, a Make-a-Wish foundation fundraiser, a Cystic Fibrosis charity walk, and much, much more. This part of the job is so special to me and just as important as the dancing I do on game day.”
On a typical game day, the cheerleaders arrive no less than six hours ahead of kick-off. They have a full practice on the field before the fans fill the stands. There are no breaks during the game.
“It is truly a marathon, but already these days are some of the best memories I’ll ever have,” Allison said. “There are a few pieces of advice I would give to any young woman striving for something that seems big and out of reach: Don’t give in to the voice in your head that says you aren’t good enough to achieve your goals. You can! Maybe the goal feels too big (mine did for while) Break your goal down into actionable pieces.
“Surround yourself with a system that supports you entirely and ignore what other people think of you,” Allison continued. “You know yourself best – if you cannot stop thinking about it, don’t let anyone’s judgement keep you from going for it.”
And dreams are born at home … for Allison, that’s Carthage, Mo. – daughter of Mark and Shannon Peterson.
“Carthage will always be my home and the most special place in the world to me because of the people,” she said. “I cannot imagine a better place to grow up or better people to mold me into the person I am. I think of Mrs. Boyd who made me fall in love with reading and Matt Huntley who let me record my MVC audition tapes on the high school football field. I think of all the guys at the Carthage Golf Course who watched me and my brothers grow up. I think of all the ‘older girls’ I adored when I was younger and wanted to be just like – Emma Lambeth, Keely Youngworth and Katie Pence.”
Allison wanted to mention other Carthage natives who made it to this level: Anne Flanigan with the Oakland Raiderettes; Holly Powell with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (daughter to Dawn who was a Chiefs Cheerleader); and current Vikings player Zach Davidson is from Webb City.
The Vikings play the Patriots at home on Thanksgiving night. Watch the game and keep an eye out for Allison and her teammates on NBC.