Although the former Chalan Pago resident made the cheerleading team last year, she was more nervous when she tried out for the team this year.
“I think it was kind of more nerve-wracking,” the 27-year-old said via telephone from Tucson, Ariz. “The previous year you go and you give it your all. But this past year — you go through the program and you cheer at the games — you know how much there is to lose.”
Heather Karberg, the director of Cardinals Cheerleaders, said approximately 200 women tried out for the team this year. Sixteen veterans, including DeCabooter, joined the audition in round three, learned a dance routine and performed it the next day. Finalists were then chosen and asked to return for a panel interview. After that, they had practice for the next three days. Twenty-nine women were selected for the team on March 29, and DeCabooter was one of 15 veterans who again made the team.
“She not only has a great look and proved herself this year, but she improved tremendously over the year with her dance skills and her confidence,” Karberg said via telephone from Tempe, Ariz.
The Cardinals cheerleaders practice from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Cardinals practice facility in Tempe. DeCabooter commutes 90 minutes to 2 hours from her home in Tucson to attend practice.
“She’s very dedicated and always comes prepared,” Karberg said. “She’s probably the most dedicated person that I’ve had as far as people who travel that distance.”
Took three tries
Prior to the 2011 season, DeCabooter tried out for the team twice and didn’t make it. She said that she felt overwhelmed the first two times that she tried out when she watched all the talented dancers. She took more advanced dance classes prior to trying out again. She focused only on what she was doing rather than the competition during her third tryout and finally made the team.
When asked what advice she would give to prospective cheerleaders, DeCabooter said, “Keep working toward your goal, have a great support system and focus on yourself.”
DeCabooter was emotional when she first cheered at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Aug. 27, 2011, when the Cardinals took on the San Diego Chargers in a preseason game. During the game, she said that she experienced a mix of huge smiles and happy tears. She still couldn’t believe that she was a Cardinals cheerleader and finally achieved her dream.
“It was (an) incredible rush to be out on the field and feel the energy from the crowd,” she said. “I remember looking around during the national anthem and still thinking I was in a dream.”
At the end of the season, DeCabooter won the cheerleading team’s Rookie of the Year award as voted by her teammates.
“I think the girls see the same thing that I see: her work ethic, her dedication, her true appreciation for the program and the position she’s in,” Karberg said.
Danced with SKIP
DeCabooter first started dancing when she was 5 years old. She joined the SKIP Entertainment Company because she looked up to her cousin, Dee Perez, who was already in SKIP. Perez said dancing and performing at a young age taught them discipline and sportsmanship. She said that seeing her cousin dance now makes her proud.
“Maria has always had the talent and skill of a great dancer, yet she finds ways to push herself to be better,” Perez said via email. “The enthusiasm she has for her team (and the Cardinals brings) her dancing to a whole other level.”
DeCabooter also traveled to a few places in the U.S. mainland to perform with SKIP, and remained with the company until middle school.
Brains and beauty
A student at St. John’s School, she left Guam after her sophomore year and graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu in 2003. She received her bachelor of arts degree in political science from Rice University in Houston in 2007. In 2010, she received her juris doctorate from the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law. She works as an advocacy specialist doing research and public policy for the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona.
She married David DeCabooter in Hawaii last October. She proudly said that her husband is the biggest Cardinals cheerleaders’ fan and wears a shirt that says “Go Maria” to games. He also holds season tickets.
Christmas in Guam
Maria DeCabooter visits Guam every Christmas and was on island last December. She misses her parents: Joaquin and Eileen Manibusan, her family, the culture, how friendly everyone is and the beach.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my amazing family,” she said. “I am so lucky to have such a great support system and only wish I could see them more.”
She also encourages people to follow their dreams like she did.
“Don’t limit yourself,” she said. “Keep your dreams big. It might take a while, but if you work hard and keep at it you’ll get where you want to get.”
Nadia Fernandez Untalan is a former Pacific Daily News sports reporter. She resides in Mesa, Ariz.