One Shining Moment, One Year Later 

Cassidy Cerny and Nathan Paris reflect back on a whirlwind year 

By Ashlee Buhler

“You’re the tallest… Grab Cass and go!” 

Just seconds after those words were spoken came one of the most memorable – and for sure the most watched – moment of the 2022 March Madness Tournament. It was a moment shared and appreciated by millions around the world, yet had nothing to do with the players.

When the basketball became lodged between the backboard and shot clock, bringing the round one game between Indiana University and Saint Mary’s to a halt, it was two Indiana University cheerleaders who came to the rescue and became the unexpected heroes of the game.

Meet Cassidy Cerny and Nathan Paris. 

How They Got Here

Cassidy Cerny’s journey actually began with gymnastics. It wasn’t until the age of 12 that she got the itch to try something new and walked into a cheer gym for the first time. Cassidy and cheerleading clicked and the rest is history. Cassidy competed for West Side Cougars All Stars in addition to cheering for her high school before heading off to Bloomington for college. Although she looked at colleges all over the country, Indiana University just felt like home. When she walked onto campus for the first time to attend a cheer clinic (alongside her All Star coach who happens to be a former IU cheerleader herself) becoming a Hoosier just felt right. 

“I knew the second I went to that clinic that this is where I wanted to go,” Cassidy said. “The environment was amazing and everybody was so insanely talented. It gave me something to work toward and grew my passion a lot in cheer.”

For Nathan Paris, the story looks a little different. With nearly a dozen members of his family who are IU alums, Nathan has bled crimson and cream his whole life. Cheer on the other hand not so much. He grew up playing a variety of sports including baseball and basketball but when the time to go to college rolled around, he knew he would need to find a different outlet if he wanted to stay involved in the game day atmosphere. Initially he joined the marching band but halfway through his sophomore year, Nathan decided he was ready for a completely new experience – trying out for the cheerleading squad. 

“I decided it looked a lot more fun to throw people in the air for a living, so I decided to try out,” he said. 

Learning how to stunt wasn’t easy, in fact there were plenty of bobbles along the way, but with a little bit of patience, determination, and an excellent partner, he was able to pick it up in about six months. 

“I’d love to tell you it came easy and I’m a natural, but there were a couple of months where there were a lot of falls! Cassidy unfortunately was the one who was teaching me,” Nathan joked. “We’ve been together since the beginning and she helped me figure out all the basics, and didn’t get too mad at me when I dropped her!” 

Ever since there’s been no looking back. Becoming a Hoosier cheerleader was the best decision Nathan said he’s ever made, in fact, it’s been life changing.

How It Happened 

It started as a typical game day in Portland, Oregon. Cassidy and Nathan were donning crimson and cream on the sidelines as they always do and cheering their hearts out as the Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team played the Saint Mary’s Gaels during round one of the March Madness game. In the second half, Saint Mary’s was up 45-29 when the unthinkable happened. The ball got wedged between the backboard and shot clock, bringing the game to a standstill. The players couldn’t reach the ball, so a referee tried to unlodge it with a mop handle while standing atop a chair, but all to no avail. Unbeknownst to Cassidy and Nathan at the time, NCAA rules state a game can’t be completed without the same ball it started with. That’s when they sprung into action. 

“We saw the players motioning to us and saying ‘Can you guys come here and figure this out?’ I turned around to our coach and captain and they both were like, ‘You’re the tallest you have to go. Grab Cass and go.’ So we went over there and did our thing,” Nathan said. 

The crowd erupted as Nathan hoisted Cassidy up in the air to retrieve the ball; a skill considered rather simple for a college cheerleader, but made them superheroes when all else failed on the court that day. 

“What’s funny is I threw her up to hands and I realized we weren’t under the basket yet, we were about 8.5 feet from where we were supposed to be,” Nathan recalled. “So I was like, ‘Well I guess now we’re going to walk this stunt over there!’ Which we had not practiced ever – but it worked out! We went up there, grabbed the ball, and the crowd went wild.” 

And in that moment they became the unlikeliest stars of March Madness.

How Life Changed

Every major news outlet wanted a piece of Cassidy and Nathan in the hours after their game-saving moment. From 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. the duo did interview after interview, appearing on shows like Good Morning America, TMZ and The Kelly Clarkson Show.

The madness continued in the months that followed with the duo inking NIL deals with companies like Method Hand Soap and Sparkling Ice, and even having their image printed on t-shirts. Cassidy and Nathan also partnered with the College Athlete Network to launch a podcast “Beyond the Megaphone” to bring awareness to the ins and outs of Game Day collegiate cheerleading. These are all opportunities not often granted to cheerleaders.

“When NIL was first becoming a really big thing, I think as college cheerleaders we kind of dismissed the idea of it even happening because we’re not one of those bigger sports that these opportunities tend to come to,” Cassidy said. “Getting the opportunity to take those NIL deals as Game Day cheerleaders specifically, has been such a blessing and I feel very respected for what I do and what we do together.”

Yet Cassidy and Nathan’s biggest opportunity was still to come. 

One Year Later

It was a typical Saturday afternoon. Cassidy was lounging around on the couch with her friends when she got the Instagram message: AT&T wanted to do a commercial. “I called Nathan immediately and was like, ‘Dude… listen to this,” Cassidy said. “After we committed to it and got all the details, we got a script, we were like, ‘Wow this is real!” 

Cassidy and Nathan soon found themselves on a commercial set in Los Angeles alongside current and former NCAA basketball legends for AT&T’s ad campaign titled Madness Loves Company. Nathan and Cassidy mimicked their iconic game-saving stunt, except this time on a sunny California beach with the ball stuck in a palm tree. The shot itself only took three or four takes, but the moment will live on forever for Cassidy and Nathan. 

“Growing up doing a little bit of sports, a little bit of music, I also grew up as an actor and did theater for six or seven years.. When somebody told me I was going to be on TV, the 14 year old in me freaked out and thought I’m gonna be a movie star,” Nathan said. “It’s a crazy experience to say I’m actually on a set right now, there’s a director over there, and producers and everything. It was a cool full circle moment for me.”

While the unexpected fame has been fun, the journey has come with lessons too. 

“We did not expect at all for that to end up how it is now,” said Cassidy, who plans to return to IU and try out for the All Girl team for her final year. “I would have never thought that that would lead to an AT&T commercial! It’s definitely been a big learning curve in my life. It’s weird to say a hand extension taught me a lot of things but it did. I had to learn how to manage my time with everything that was going on. It taught me a lot about the industry of entertainment, conducting a good interview… It was a lot but really really cool.”

Their ‘One Shining Moment’ has helped to put a spotlight on Game Day Cheerleading as well, a side of the sport that is often overlooked and under-appreciated. 

“I have been so overjoyed by the whole situation and cheer getting so much respect for a skill we think is so small,” Cassidy said. “It just goes to show that what we do is so impressive. I love the attention to Game Day cheer specifically because competition cheer has gotten a lot more respect with the show Cheer, but not a lot of people know what Big 10 cheerleaders do and this side of cheerleading. So it’s been super cool to see people truly get excited about what we do and are excited for us for the opportunities we’re given.”

While Cassidy still has one more year of cheer to go, Nathan is ready to move on to the next chapter. He already has a job lined up this summer in Indianapolis as a technology consultant, but his impact on the sport will not be forgotten. 

“Growing up not being a cheerleader, being able to see the world of cheer the past three years and see everything that goes on behind the scenes and how hard everyone works to put out this product, whether it’s a two minute performance on the competition side or a day full of prep and excitement if you’re on the Game Day side, it’s been remarkable,” Nathan said. “I think the commercial is a great nod to these cheerleaders who are out here working and doing everything for our teams and our schools to support them.”

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