Beyond the Mats

Juliana Nikac and Mike Dalton

Jocelyn Saber is in the four-plus-one program in the school of business and is working towards earning her master’s in business administration. She’s also a former division-one athlete for the Acrobatics and Tumbling team at Quinnipiac University.

Most girls that are or once were a part of the Acrobatics and Tumbling team at Quinnipiac won’t go on to become professionals in the sport, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use the skills they learn in Acrobatics and Tumbling for other purposes.

In fact, Saber decided to use her Acrobatics and Tumbling skills to audition to be a Green Team cheerleader for Beantown’s most beloved NBA Basketball team, the Boston Celtics.

Over the summer of 2017, the Green Team’s head coach, Eric Bichao, reached out to Saber about trying out for the Green Team. Despite the once in a lifetime opportunity, Saber was hesitant.

“The student-athlete life is not easy,” Saber said. “You have no free time. You’re tied down to this. You can’t do anything you really want. I wanted no part of it, plus my body was tired after the pounding and flipping. Your body’s not meant to do all that, so I just wanted a break.”

But after talking to Bichao on the phone, he eventually convinced Saber to give it a try.

Before she auditioned, Saber went to several open gyms with the Green Team so she could become more comfortable with the other girls and guys who were trying out.

Saber’s mother, Joanne, came with her to her first open gym at the Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“I think [Bichao] was really just blown away with by the way she just fit into it,” Joanne said. “It was not a transition at all for her.”

A few weeks past, and it was time for auditions.

“[The judges] lined us all up,” Saber said. “We each had a number. There are two rounds. The first round you go out for about two minutes and you do as much as you can to showcase what you can do. The second round you only have 30 seconds to a minute and you had to showcase your big talent, your special talent.”

Before being on the Acrobatics and tumbling team for Quinnipiac, Saber was an All-Star cheerleader. For her special talent, Saber decided to use the skills she learned in Acrobatics and tumbling as well as in cheerleading to show the judges her versatility.

“Me and another guy, he threw me up by himself,” Saber said. “I flipped, landed, flipped upside down again, came back up, popped around and went back up into the air. That was just one part. The second part I actually did with another Acrobatics and Tumbling member. We did some girl-on-girl stunting for [the judges] which is different for them because they’re not used to seeing that.”

Saber might have finished auditioning, but that was just the first part of the job application. The auditions just determined who the Green Team coaches wanted to invite back for corporate interviews.

“It’s not all about the talent and the look. They want someone with the character to represent the Celtics. They don’t want someone that’s going to fool around and mess up the brand or reputation.”

Jocelyn waited about a week for the corporate interview, then she waited another week to hear back from the green team to see if she got the job or not.

“[Eric Bichao] actually called me when I was driving, and I just started screaming,” Saber said. “I was like ‘Oh my god! Oh my god! Thank you so much!’ I’ll always remember that phone call.”

Saber’s a native of Redding, Connecticut which is about an hour-and-a-half away from New York City. She may be a die-hard Yankee and Rangers fan, but the Boston Celtics always held a special place in the Saber family’s heart, especially since her father, Chuck, grew up in Massachusetts.

When he was in high school, Chuck always tried to find a way to get Celtics tickets so he and his friends could go watch players like Larry Bird, Kevin Mchale and Robert Parish work their magic on the parquet court of the old Boston Garden.

“It was just mind-blowing to watch those guys play,” Chuck said.

Watching the Celtics play brings back a lot of childhood memories for Chuck Saber, and he can enjoy watching them even more now that his own daughter gets to witness the action right in front of her.

“The fact that she’s on that floor to me, as a sports fan, that’s insane,” Chuck said. “The fact that she’s on the same floor that Bird and Mchale played on, and she’s on that floor on a weekly basis.”

“It’s not all about the talent and the look. They want someone with the character to represent the Celtics.” – Jocelyn Saber

Roughly 35-40 women applied to be cheerleaders for the Celtics. Only eleven made the cut, and Saber was just one of four rookies that made the team. In fact, several returning cheerleaders didn’t make the team.

Sierra Best and Kelly Cates are both juniors on the Acrobatics and Tumbling team. They also live in an off-campus house with Saber, so they get to see some of the sacrifices Saber has to make in order to be able to be a cheerleader for a basketball team that’s about two hours away.

“She’s just so positive every time I see her,” Cates said. “She’s never complained even with long commutes and staying up. She’s always smiling and she just loves what she does.”

Acro and Tumbling also teaches athlete like Saber about being committed and sticking with something through the bad and the good. It teaches student-athletes that in order for them to participate in their sport, they have to keep their grades up.

“I think Quinnipiac does a great job of training their student-athletes to stay in the academic portion in what they’re doing,” Quinnipiac acrobatics and tumbling head coach Mary Ann Powers said.

Powers coached Saber throughout her four years at Quinnipiac. Many of the women on the Acrobatics and Tumbling team learn how to get into a great work ethic that they can apply in and out of the sports. Student-athletes also learn how to support others while being able to contribute in a team environment. Saber was no exception to these expectations.

“[Jocelyn] was an amazing teammate,” Powers said. “She was an amazing friend, she works really hard with her studies, all of the above.”

Hard work pays off, and now Jocelyn Saber has the privilege to use the skills she learned as a student-athlete on the Acrobatics and Tumbling team on a professional level.

The one thing Saber didn’t learn or experience before she was a professional cheerleader was how much energy a professional atmosphere can bring on a regular basis. As far as how Jocelyn Saber feels every time she steps on that parquet floor, it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves. Only after you’ve experienced being out in the middle of the TD Garden with thousands of fans cheering on their favorite team and being surrounded by some of the best basketball players in the world will you understand how Jocelyn Saber feels. And that’s a feeling only a handful of people will ever experience.