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Bucs Cheerleader Hopefuls Have Array of Backgrounds

By Howard Altman
The Tampa Tribune

 

Jessica Prieto and other candidates stretch while listening to the song "Tonight I'm Lovin' You," by Enrique Iglesias.

Jessica Prieto and other candidates stretch while listening to the song "Tonight I'm Lovin' You," by Enrique Iglesias.

During the week, Jessica Owens works in a windowless room in one of the most cloistered buildings in the city, an anonymous contractor with the highest security clearance, analyzing computer systems for U.S. Special Operations Command.

But if things break her way, come the fall, she will be one of Tampa’s most visible women, dancing in a cropped halter top and short shorts along the sidelines at Raymond James Stadium as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer cheerleader.

“It’s a hard balance to master,” says Owens, 30, minutes after taking a stage at One Buc Place, where she was one of about 200 women to audition for a coveted spot on next season’s cheer squad.

For Owens, walking the fine line between top secret and Victoria’s Secret is nothing new.

She was a cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens in 2010.

“It’s hard sometimes, because I can’t talk about what I do,” says Owens, a computer systems analyst who said she used to work for the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade in Maryland.

* * * * *

The tryouts – the first part of a three-step process to fill about 30 cheerleading spots — began with a warm-up session in an interview room, as the first wave of about 30 candidates stretched to “Tonight I’m Lovin You” by Enrique Iglesias.

The first candidate to try out, Nichole Tomichek, also happened to travel the longest distance for the long-shot chance at cheering.

“I flew in last night from Pittsburgh,” said Tomichek, 21, who recently graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in middle school education. “I fly back out tomorrow.”

Tomichek, who traveled with her friend, Abby Mildner, 23, said she was enticed to try out by a YouTube video she watched.

Besides, “the Steelers don’t have cheerleaders,” she said.

The first group of three to take the audition stage, Tomicheck, Mildner and Carina McCrea, 24, of Tampa, were asked to introduce themselves, perform short dance routines, do splits and walk across the stage.

“We are looking for basic dancing ability, appearance, musicality and overall stage presence,” said Catherine Boyd, the Bucs’ senior cheerleading and mascot manager, who was leading a panel of seven judges deciding which candidates would go to the next round.

“We know it when we see it,” said Boyd, 39, whose judgment comes from experience. She was a cheerleader from 2000 to 2003 and again in 2006.

About 100 women will be called back for another round of judging next week, where they will be joined by the returning cheerleaders.

“Everyone has to try out,” said Boyd, adding that usually about 75 percent of the previous year’s squad tries to return.

“We may judge them a little harder, because they are supposed to know what to do,” she said.

That session will reduce the number of would-be cheerleaders to about 50, said Boyd, with a final selection by the end of February.

Cheerleaders receive minimal compensation and game-day tickets. Tomicheck said she will move to Florida if she is selected.

“Now I wait for the call,” said Tomichek. “It should come by Monday. I am really anxious.”

* * * * *

Those trying out Saturday came from a range of backgrounds. Many are students. A lot, like Desiree Formata, 21, of Tampa, are aspiring teachers.

Tammy Denbo, one of the judges, said the Bucs are looking for women who not only have stage presence, but can represent the team in the community.

She should know. A former Bucs’ cheerleader, she is a partner in a law firm, served as an assistant prosecutor in Pinellas County and is active in an array of charities.

“We want our cheerleaders to have good careers or interest in careers and be good role models,” said Denbo.

Owens, the Socom contractor, is an example.

A former Air Force senior airman, she said she now is helping Socom figure out to save money at a time of shrinking military spending.

“My company was brought in to do an unbiased review of Socom’s data consolidation plan,” she said. “Everyone is looking to cut back.”

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