A onetime pioneer is still leading others long after hanging up her pom poms

Danyelle Hillman First African-American Cheerleader

Danyelle Hillman ‘99 was at choir practice on campus one night in 1995 when an Auburn cheerleader came in to speak to the group.

She told them that they were looking for new team members, but what really sparked Hillman’s curiosity was when the cheerleader mentioned that there had never been an African American female cheerleader on the team, only one male in the 70’s.

“I never set out to make history or anything like that,” Hillman said. “I just knew I had cheered before and felt like I could cheer again.”

Next thing she knew, Hillman was going through the three-day tryout process, making the cut each day until the final callouts when she heard her name.

“When they called my name, I thought I was in a dream. That was one of the most exciting moments of my life.”

Hillman made history that football season as she became the first African American female to cheer for Auburn.

“I had no idea until that moment how important it was that I was on this cheer team. I had no idea what it would mean for the future of Auburn Cheerleading.” As a small-town girl from Russellville, Ala., she was nervous to cheer in front of 83,000 people in the stadium. She even had a classmate tell her he watched her during each game to make sure she didn’t fall.

Despite the what-ifs, Hillman made it through the year, cheering for football and basketball with her team by her side.

“The whole year I cheered for the Auburn Tigers on the football field and on the basketball courts were very special moments in my life that I hold very near and dear to my heart. I cheered with a very special group of individuals who I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Though she treasures her time on the team, it did take a toll on her. Hillman said after her year on the team, she had to buckle down and remember that she came to Auburn to get an education. When she graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing, she attended the University of North Alabama for a year in their 5th-year program. After finishing that, she put her degree to good use in the marketing department of a local bank.

“I thought to myself, ‘I am getting to use my degree at Auburn to do something I went to school for.’ So many times, I have found people would graduate from college and end up in a totally different field. When I landed the marketing job, I felt like I was not another statistic.”

Following her first job, she became the Assistant Marketing Director in the field of Economic Development near her home in Franklin county, with the hopes of one day being able to teach others. Though she was a full-time worker and mom, she made her dreams come true with the help of Distance Learning.

She earned her Masters of Education Degree in Secondary Education and the next year started teaching at Muscle Shoals High School, where she has been ever since 2007.

Hillman still uses all of the skills and knowledge she learned at Auburn to this day, as she teachers business and marketing and coaches the cheerleading team.

“I never realized the foundation and impact Auburn has had on my life until this very moment. Looking back, it was the successes and failures while at Auburn that made me into the strong woman I am today. It is truly a place where you have the capabilities to determine how high you soar. It’s a place where you learn setbacks don’t keep you down — they are just stepping stones to help you climb higher.”