TERRE HAUTE —
When I heard the NFL lockout finally ended this week, I looked for someone affiliated with the Indianapolis Colts to get a reaction.
They haven’t conducted preseason training camp at Rose-Hulman since 2009, so finding players or coaches nearby wasn’t an option for me (although Tom James is doing his usual great job of reporting on Colts news from their current camp site in Anderson).
Undeterred, I continued my search, until I ended up at the Copper Bar.
Yes, the popular Copper Bar in downtown Terre Haute, where Colts cheerleader Stefanie Blesch works part-time as a server.
Blesch, an Indiana State University senior majoring in communications, and Mara Mayle, an ISU senior majoring in nursing, are the Wabash Valley’s 2011 representatives on the Colts’ 42-person cheerleading squad.
Not surprisingly, both are sooooo happy they will get to perform at Colts home games this season.
“I am very relieved that [the lockout] ended,” admitted Mayle, a 2008 graduate of Northview High School and a fitness instructor at the Brazil YMCA. “Our practices have never stopped. We definitely were not locked out. We’ve been going at it since April. We’ve been practicing twice a week since then… So knowing that all of our work is going to pay off for something is definitely worthwhile.”
“I’m also very relieved,” added Blesch, a 2007 graduate of Southridge High School and a former two-year member of the ISU Sparkettes. “Game days are what we look forward to the most. That’s when 63,000 people get to come in and watch the result of all the hard work we’ve been putting in. It’s so exciting. That’s the reason we’re there.”
Blesch, 23, and Mayle, 21, took slightly different paths to the positions they’re in now.
Blesch, who competed in gymnastics as a youth, was a cheerleader through elementary school, middle school and high school, while this is Mayle’s first cheerleading gig. Mayle’s specialty is dancing, something she has loved doing since she was 2.
“When a lot of people think of ‘cheerleader,’ they think of tumbling and lifts,” Mayle noted. “But we’re strictly professional dancers that learn multiple routines and new routines for each game. So it was a little easier [to become an NFL cheerleader] with my dance experience.”
Both are beginning their second year as Colts cheerleaders, having made the squad on their first try in 2010. Each must make at least 20 public appearances per year at events such as autograph signings and karaoke singing sessions at nursing homes.
“One time I washed an elephant at the Indianapolis Zoo,” Blesch mentioned.
Although Blesch and Mayle enjoy interacting with the public, both agreed their favorite part of the job is performing on game days.
“The fans are our main job,” Mayle emphasized. “We have to keep their morale up. We’re who they look to for how they should react at a game … even if we’re not on top [on the scoreboard] at that time.”
“I do have a passion for performing,” Blesch pointed out. “Getting the chance to perform in front of so many people with these awesome dances, with these amazing girls that I look up to … that is my favorite part.”
She particularly appreciated the opportunity to perform with some of the other Colts cheerleaders in London last year.
One of the downsides of the job, if you want to call it that, is not being able to interact with Colts players at any time.
“It’s an NFL policy,” Blesch explained. “No fraternization, no dancing with players. A lot of people are surprised that we’re not upset by that, but that’s not why any of us signed up to do this. We do it for the job, not for the players.”
“It’s a policy for a reason,” Mayle said. “We are a very professional group.”
Some fans might consider their grueling training sessions as another downside, but Blesch and Mayle don’t see it that way.
“The training sessions [two Saturdays a month in Carmel] are definitely the hardest part, but they pay off in the end,” Mayle said with a smile. “Our trainer [Sean Bartram] is hardcore.”
“On game days, we’re ready to go,” Blesch insisted. “We’ve been working hard on endurance. It still is really challenging. If the Colts happen to score a touchdown, that is one of the most challenging parts of our routines because there are about four dances and four songs that go into one touchdown. And it can be very tiring. And if they get another [touchdown] right after that, then you’ve got to suck it up.”
And if they start to feel exhausted during a high-scoring game?
Too bad. Keep dancing and keep cheering.
“The crowd can’t know if you’re lagging or if you’re tired,” Blesch stressed. “It’s 100 percent all the time.”
When not interviewing NFL cheerleaders, David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.