Rah! Rah! Sis Boom Bah!
By Alysa Offman Metro Times
September 3, 2014
When they got their start five years ago, the Detroit Pride Cheerleaders were kind of a joke. Actually, that’s literally how they started. Andrea Wilamowski was catching a game with her husband and a Lions executive when the idea crossed her mind.
“My husband was a sponsor of the Lions, and we were friends with one of the executives that worked for them and it started out kind of as a little joke,” says Wilamowski. “We sat there and everyone was like ‘Why don’t we have cheerleaders?’ Because it’s really boring, you know, the two-minute warning and the places where you’d normally have entertainment, there’s nothing. So, as a joke, off the cuff, I just said I would start a team.”
So she gathered up some sponsors and struck up some interest and in 2010, she founded the Detroit Pride Cheerleaders. And they were all set to be the Lions’ first official cheer squad.
“This executive had said to me, ‘If you get the team started, you bring it to me and we’ll talk,’” she says. “We got a group of people and businesses interested and really wanting to pursue it, and I went back to the Lions and they said, ‘Oh, my God, this is wonderful, but we’re not ready yet. Maybe next year.’”
Now the team is heading into its fifth year, and they’re still not the Lions’ official squad. That doesn’t hold them back, though, and they aren’t shunned by the franchise in any way. In fact, players act as guest judges during tryouts and often attend the final showdown that takes place at the Fillmore.
“The Lions players appreciate us,” Wilamowski says. “They always have been excellent with us. They encourage us to keep doing what we’re doing and they appreciate the fact that we’re out there helping to support them and the city.”
Wilamowski says the franchise supports them, just not with cash, and it’s an expensive business to run. Just getting the girls into a game at Ford Field costs the team upwards of $4,000.
“We have to rely on sponsors and our calendar and our look book sales to keep the team going,” Wilamowski says. “I didn’t start this team with a ton of cash in the bank because it was something we were doing for fun, but then it turned into something very serious right away. We have all of our different sponsors that we do business with, which is very helpful, but what people don’t realize is that we purchase our tickets when we go into the games.”
Ironically, the girls never sit in the seats those tickets belong to. Instead, they stand on the concourse, shaking hands and taking pictures with fans.
“As soon as the girls walk in, they’re smiling for three solid hours,” Wilamowski says. “They stand in three-and-a-half inch boots from 10:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night. We go on the concourse and lines form immediately. We separate the girls into different groups, and we put them in different places because if all of the girls stand in one place, there’s a massive line that forms all the way down the concourse.”
Sure, they get their share of creepy drunks who go for boob-grabs and upskirts, but more often than not, their biggest fans are too young to even contemplate such crudeness.
“I think that the biggest reward is when you see the little girls that are 4 to 10 years old, and the girls will hand them a pom-pom and take a picture and the look on their faces is amazing,” Wilamowski says. “To them, these cheerleaders are, with all their rhinestones and sparkles and their shiny poms, they’re a hero, they’re a princess. It’s a really rewarding moment.”
Felicia Kollias is entering into her second year as a Detroit Pride Cheerleader and meeting with those miniature fans is one of her biggest rewards. She gushes about those fan interactions, noting it was the biggest surprise of getting to be part of the Detroit Pride.
Kollias works as a receptionist at a hair salon and goes to school full-time for teaching. Cheering with the Detroit Pride takes up a considerable amount of her time, but to her it’s worth it.
“We perform outside for every home game,” she says. “We don’t just cheer. We do dances with the crowd, and there is lots of interaction. Rain or shine, we’re outside performing. Because we aren’t official cheerleaders, we’re able to have more interactions with fans.”
Being able to interact with fans is one reason Wilamowski likes the Pride’s independence.
“It takes a lot to put together a sanctioned team, and those teams spend most of their time performing,” she says. “Eighty percent of our time is spent on fan interaction, and 20 percent is spent performing. If we were to become an official team, it would be the opposite. Now we’re able to pick the charities we work with and the events we do; there’s a lot less red tape.”
Doing charity work is a big part of being a Pride cheerleader. In fact, they’re required to make philanthropic appearances and attend community events.
“The girls have a certain amount of charitable appearances that they have to do every year,” Wilamowski says. “They do not get paid for them. And they also do four or five community appearances that they have to do a year, and then after that they have the potential for paid opportunities, and we do a lot of appearances throughout the year, not only on game days but on off days, too,” she says.
While their schedule wasn’t solidified at press time, you can usually find the Pride cheerleaders inside Ford Field during games, but you won’t see them there during Monday Night Football due to the high cost of tickets. During that game, they’ll perform at halftime at the Fillmore at a special viewing party. Aside from that, fans can keep up with them on Facebook and their official website. — mt
Over the years, I have photographed many professional cheerleaders and as luck would have it, three of them were cast on current television shows. Morgan, a former 49ers Gold Rush member, is currently on the latest edition of Survivor, Survivor: Cagayan, and is featured on the premiere episode entitled, Hot Girl With A Grudge.
And earlier this season on The Bachelor, former Detroit Pride Cheerleader Cassandra and former Phoenix Suns Dancer Kat were featured prominently on the show.
Unfortunately for them, they were eliminated in episode 6. But they’ll be back on the reunion show on Monday.
Detroit Pride Cheerleader captain Alisha during September's calendar release party
Second year Detroit Pride Cheerleader Alisha is a captain of the unofficial squad that supports the Detroit Lions, and that they are not on the sidelines provides mixed feeling for Alisha. Asked about what she likes about being part of the Pride, Alisha responded, “I love the performing and the dancing, but I like interacting with people. Everybody has their own story. So being able to go down and tailgate, and talk to the fans, you get to talk to everyone, and see how they like the games, and get everyone’s opinion. To me, it’s bittersweet not being on the field, because when you are on the field, you don’t get to interact with fans like that.”
And Alisha is a REAL sports fan. When UltimateCheerleaders spoke to Alisha prior the Lions-Bears game in September, Alisha responded about being a fan herself, “Definitely! Football, hockey, and baseball! And my boyfriend is actually a professional soccer player.”
Soccer, eh? So does his footwork translate into being a good dancer himself? Alisha laughed, “Unfortunately, yes he is. At the calendar release party, he was going to town.” Pride Director of Cheerleading Megan Agrusa chimed in that during the Pride’s dance routines during the calendar release party, “He told me to put him in.” Alisha added, “He said, ‘I learned the routines!’”
Alisha during pre-game dances prior to the Lions-Bears game
But as it turns out, Alisha’s boyfriend is a soccer goalie. So he must be good with his hands, too? “That’s exactly what he says,” Alisha laughed.
So, is it challenging to be have a boyfriend in professional sports, with the travel and such? “Not really, my season started while he was gone, so we are just as busy. I think it is harder for him with me being a cheerleader rather than him being a soccer player. Because I get more attention that he does,” Alisha laughed.
So does it take a special kind of guy to be in a relationship with a pro cheerleader? “I think so, because they have to know that it’s a job,” responded Alisha. “So we smile, and take pictures with people. We take the good days with the bad, and they are just really supportive.”
As a dancer, Alisha is a trained athlete herself, and a dance friend connected her to the Pride. “I have been dancing for over 20 years now, and actually my friend introduced me to auditions last year,” Alisha said. “She told me about a week before auditions, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just go try,’ and I made the team, and I love it.”
Being a Pride Cheerleader has taken Alisha’s dance in a new direction. “It was a lot different because I came from a dance studio where I did competition dancing,” Alisha commented. “So it was going from dance to kind of more cheerleading/pom dance, so the style of dance changed, and just the way I had to carry myself and interact with everyone was completely different. But it definitely lived up to the expectations that I had.”
And one of the amazing additions this season to the Pride experience was their calendar shoot during an eight day Caribbean cruise. “For most of us, it was our first time on a cruise, so it was definitely an experience,” Alisha said. “Some of the girls shot on the cruise ship with the sunset behind them, and everyone was able to shoot on the beaches. I shot at Cococay in the Bahamas.”
A favorite memory from the cruise for Alisha was, “Running on the treadmill one of the mornings and I saw dolphins swimming in the waves, while I was running. So that was awesome!”
Detroit's finest, joined by the local police, at Eastern Market
You know, it really was an unfair challenge. After all, it has been almost 30 years since the Bears fans had their own Honey Bears on the sidelines. They are a vulnerable species when it comes to cheerleaders.
So when the Detroit Pride Cheerleaders and their Directors, Andrea Wilamowski and Megan Agrusa, came up with this challenge for Bears fans (get a free, hot off the presses DPC Swimsuit Calendar, just for yelling, “Go Lions”) temptation crossed the minds of all the Bears faithful. Throughout the pre-game tailgates prior to the Lions-Bears game on September 29th, there were plenty of orange Bears supporters in addition to the silver Lions fans. And not too many Bears fans accepted the challenge. Some would say, “Go Lions” and maybe throw in a “NOT!” but they all considered throwing their Bears under the bus for the swimsuit photo ensemble.
And some Bears fans succumbed, and no one seemed to enjoy it more than calendar cover Felicia, who appeared to have super special powers of persuasion over Bears fans.
Detroit Pride Cheerleader Felicia and her calendar cover
At Bookies Bar & Grille, one of the morning stops for the Pride, the unofficial but officially beloved cheerleaders for the Lions, Felicia sensed a weak Bears fan, willing to be trapped by the lure of the DPC Calendar. See the sequence below, like a scene from Animal Planet:
-Felicia senses a weakened Bears fan,
-Bears fan stands in crowded restaurant and shouts his “Go Lions!” even while pointing to his Bears logo (face blurred to protect his reputation after such sacrilege, after all, Chitown is Bartman country)
-and Felicia’s joy in accomplishing her ensnarement of enemy forces
And Felicia’s work was not done, as she continued trapping Bears fans with the appeal of the DPC Calendar.
In addition, the Pride Cheerleaders also met the world smartest baby boy at Bookies. After all, finding their silver poms the one thing that was worth holding onto and not letting go was a smooth move on his part. Nice move, little man, nice move. If only the other pre-game fans were so smooth.
But DPC Amber not only hung out with super smart baby, it seems like the constantly smiling Pride Cheerleader is a magnet for unique Lions fans, or vice versa. Amber not only was a fav of the Lions super fans, she visited with Lions fans in their own tailgate ready hot tub! So, you might want to keep track of the Amber’s whereabouts, it seems like she is the center of lots of fun!
Felicia and some Lions Super Fans celebrate her selection as calendar cover girl
Saturday night, the Detroit Pride Cheerleaders held their calendar release party, which showed their continued growth and prominence in Detroit’s sports scene. The unofficial cheerleaders that cheer on the Detroit Lions presented a Caribbean theme for the party. Most of the calendar was shot during a cruise to the Bahamas, St Maarten, and St Thomas, with some additional photography performed locally. Also, the party was held in their brand new 8,000 square foot studio, complete with multimedia capabilities. Andrea Wilamowski founded the Pride, which is now part of her Woodward Entertainment Group, which also now grown to also manage some of the Lions super fans..
Andrea is joined this season by Director of Cheerleading Megan Agrusa, who previously danced for the Pistons for four years and was part of Andrea’s other venture, the Motor City Kitties.
After the Caribbean drummer departed the stage after cocktail hour, the stage belonged to the Pride. Three sets of Cheerleaders performed, each in different uniforms that the Pride have incorporated through the years. Then each member walked in swimsuit as Andrea talked about each one. Then, it was time to see the photos for each month, and eventually, learning Felicia was calendar cover photo!
Felicia's 2014 Detroit Pride Cheerleaders Calendar Cover
Four year veteran Sierra has been part of the squad since their first season
Director of Cheerleading Megan Agrusa and Pride founder and Director of Operations Andrea Wilamowski
Metromix Detroit has a collection of photos from this year’s auditions for the Detroit Pride cheerleaders, now going into their fourth season. Good for them! Too bad the Lions organization is being a bunch of buttheads about it. From what I hear, they won’t even show the cheerleaders on the jumbotron during a game. Any other group of 20+, attractive young ladies would probably be on the screen every time out. Nevermind ladies. Your day will come!
Can 26 of 32 NFL teams be wrong about having cheerleaders? How about 34 of 47 Super Bowl winners?
During a town-hall meeting Tuesday at Ford Field, Lions president Tom Lewand reiterated the team’s opposition to cheerleaders.
“I’m a traditionalist,” he said. “… The Packers, the Giants, the Steelers, the Bears — those original teams in the NFL, those are teams that also don’t have cheerleaders.”
Lewand is only partly right. The Honey Bears cheered in Chicago from 1976-85. The Packers were cheerleader pioneers in 1931 and Vince Lombardi himself ordered the creation of a more professional squad that used various names in 1961-86. The Steelerettes were amateur coeds who performed in Pittsburgh from 1961-69.
While six teams don’t have cheerleaders, the Lions, Browns and Giants remain the only teams that never have used them. Lewand equated that with winning.
“And I think there’s something about keeping the focus on the field,” he said, “and something about making sure that winning the game is the most important thing.”
The Detroit Pride are the unofficial Lions cheerleaders. Sounds like an official crew is not on the horizon. / DFP file photo
Cheerleaders definitely don’t distract anyone at Ford Field from the constant commercials that play on giant video screens or the silly races that are run during time-outs between actors in sponsored doughnut costumes.
As for that winning focus, the Dallas Cowboys have managed to ignore football’s preeminent cheerleaders on their way to five Super Bowl titles. General manager Tex Schramm knew pompoms and pigskins both were forms of entertainment.
“I think a lot of people do come to see what takes place at time-outs and at halftime, (which are) the cheerleaders that are involved,” said Gil Brandt, Dallas’ vice president of player personnel in 1960-89. “I don’t think that it took away from people’s appreciation of the football game. I don’t think they came to see the cheerleaders; I think they viewed the cheerleaders as a complementary piece to the football game.”
Detroit Pride cheerleaders have been invited to perform during Sony Max TV’s international broadcast of the 2013 Pepsi Indian Premiere League Cricket Championship, April 3-May 26.
“When I first got the call I was kind of surprised, too,” said Andrea Wolmowski.
As director of operations for Woodward Entertainment Group, she has worked with promoters on a variety of projects — from high-level productions for casinos and theaters to corporate events, but never has she been asked to partake in a show for a cricket match.
It’s a bug, after all.
To some that might be true, but to the gentleman who called her, saying the Indian entertainment company that he represented was interested in having her cheerleaders appear on Sony Max TV’s “Extraa Innings T20,” cricket is life.
What does that mean for Detroit Pride cheerleaders?
How about a free trip to India?
Not to mention a hotel room overlooking the Taj Mahal.
“They’re paying for everything,” said Wolmowski, whose Detroit-based company represents more than 100 cheerleaders, dancers, models and actors including the Motor City Kitties and Cleveland Spirit Cheerleaders. The NFL sanctioned Miami Dolphins’ cheerleaders performed during the cricket tournament last year, but so far, India’s entertainment industry remains untapped.
“We see this as a tremendous opportunity for Michigan-based entertainers,” said Jonathan Kruger of Warren, Woodward Entertainment’s production designer and creative director. Kruger, who has created props and sets for TV and film productions and will be traveling with the cheerleaders to India, said there are a ton of very talented individuals in the Detroit area looking for work. This could open up a lot of doors, Kruger said.
“The Indian Premier League dwarfs every other sporting event on the sub-continent for the crowd it draws, the TV ratings, the cash it generates and the rewards for the players,” according to a report by the Associated Press.
“I feel excited and honored,” said Lauren Bower, Detroit Pride cheerleaders and marketing director for Be Well Lifestyle Center in Birmingham. She will admit that at first she didn’t take it too seriously — it seemed too good to be true: a two-month, all-expense-paid trip to India, plus a salary?
“The last trip I made was to Mexico in 2008,” said Bower, who was one of six cheerleaders chosen by Woodward Entertainment for the show in India. Also traveling with her will be Kruger and Katlyn MacDonald, a senior at Eastern Michigan University.
“I think this is going to be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” she said. “As far as performing, the culture and — the food I’m a little scared. I follow a pretty strict diet here, so it’s going to be interesting. I do like spicy food though.”
The 2013 Pepsi Indian Premier League (IPL) Cricket Championship runs April 3-May 26. Two-years ago, it became the first sporting event to be viewed live on YouTube.
The Detroit Pride Cheerleaders are a relatively new squad that is trying very hard to become the official cheerleaders of the Detroit Lions. Recently, the squad purchased new Angela King designed uniforms to look more like their fellow NFL cheerleaders and I must say that they look terrific. Although the Pride brought many girls to this year’s convention, one girl in particular caught my eye. Her name is Tiffany and she is a 2012 P-R-O Convention All Star.