Thursday, October 11, 2007
By Jean DePlacido
A chance reunion with a distant relative at her great grandmother's birthday party gave Angela Lavoie the opportunity to be a part of one of sport's most successful franchises.
It was that chance meeting that sparked Lavoie's interest in becoming a cheerleader for the New England Patriots. Now, the 21-year-old from Middleton is one of 24 Patriots cheerleaders who cheer for the team during home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
"A cousin of mine cheered for the Patriots a long time ago, and I still remember being very excited when she was chosen," said Lavoie, a Masconomet Regional High School graduate who currently attends UMass Amherst. "When I saw her at my great grandmother's party, I started talking to her about it.
"I decided to go to one of the auditions and was lucky enough to survive all the cuts. I just love what I'm doing. It is all so new and exciting."
One does not simply walk in and announce an intention to cheer for the Patriots, however. The process is long and tedious, beginning with preliminary auditions at various sites around New England.
Lavoie went to Gillette Stadium to try out, where she was surprised to see a crowd of 300 others vying for a similar spot on the cheerleading team. The girls were taught a dance routine and had to perform in groups of four.
The initial group - which all wore numbers to distinguish them - was eventually cut down to 55 candidates, who were asked to return along with 13 veterans. With 68 cheerleaders competing for 24 spots on the team, that number was eventually narrowed down to 35.
"We were selected to attend a two-week practice session at Gillette Stadium," said Lavoie. "As the field was whittled down, those moving on were called by numbers until the last 35, when they were called by name."
Lavoie looked forward to the intensive practices, where 11 more cheerleaders were finally eliminated to produce the final team of 24. The number took on a whole different meaning than the highly acclaimed TV show "24" - but was no less nerve wracking.
"At first we learned a dance and did it for the judges in groups of four," said Lavoie. "While they were tallying up the scores, we had to learn the next dance. By the time we got to finals they had us perform two at a time, but scored each girl separately.
"The hardest part was waiting around and anticipating hearing your number called. You have to learn the next dance routine, but you may not get the opportunity to perform if you aren't selected. When we started to get down to the final cut, everybody had an interview with our cheerleading coach so she could see our personalities, too."
Lavoie kept thinking even if she didn't make the final cut she would know the routines and come back next year to try again. But her name was announced, and she was one of the rookies for the 2007-08 season. She was given a tour of Gillette Stadium after she was chosen, and even got to meet team owner Robert Kraft at a golf tournament.
But just because she made the team, Lavoie knows she's not guaranteed a spot for the next three seasons (the tenure of a Patriots' cheerleader). Each year, everyone has to try out all over again.
Lavoie has been dancing since she was 21/2 years old. Her cousin owns the Agnes Strecker Dance Studio in Revere, where she learned her first steps and still goes whenever she finds time in her busy schedule.
Lavoie, who is well versed in ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop and modern dancing, was a member of the Lynn (Fla.) University and the UMass Amherst dance teams.
She also has a strong background in cheerleading. At Masconomet, she cheered for the football team all four years, was on the gymnastics team for two years and even played a season of ice hockey for the Lady Chieftains.
"My background in dance helped me a lot," said Lavoie. "It is something I've enjoyed doing ever since I can remember.
"And I just love being a Patriot cheerleader. It is a big commitment, but also opens up a lot of exciting opportunities."
Tracy Sormanti, the director and choreographer of the Patriots' cheerleading team, is happy to have Lavoie as part of the squad.
"Angela gives 100 percent during every game and practice. She's a talented performer," said Sormanti. "She's intelligent, she's friendly and she's a team player."
All cheerleaders are part-time employees of the New England Patriots and are required to cheer, train regularly and do conditioning work that includes cardio workouts, aerobics, kick boxing, elliptical machines and light weight training.
All cheerleaders must be 18 years of age and be available to perform at all Patriots' home games (including playoff games), attend two practices per week at Gillette Stadium throughout the football season, and make promotional appearances.
Traveling from Amherst to Foxboro a minimum of twice weekly is a serious time commitment for Lavoie.
"There are a few girls from around this area, and I drive with them," said Lavoie, a math major at UMass. "A couple of them live relatively close to the university, which makes it easier for me.
"We sign up for whatever promotional events we'd like, then are told which ones we will go to. Some are more popular than others."
The weather has been beautiful for the Patriots' three home games thus far. But Lavoie knows that the days are coming when the temperature will drop drastically making life tough for cheerleaders, fans and players alike.
"The veterans keep saying 'Watch out for that first cold game'," laughed Lavoie. "We'll still dance; hopefully moving around will keep us warm."
Lavoie hasn't gone out of her way to announce her new job at UMass, but friends pass the word along. Fellow students are now asking her to get them Patriot tickets.
"I've been getting a lot of those (requests)," she admitted, "but I tell people my parents are big fans and family comes first.
"We get two season tickets, and a lot of my family has been able to get tickets close by. All of the cheerleader tickets are relatively close together, and the seats are really good. My parents have no complaints."
The maximum period for any Patriot cheerleader is three years. After that they must retire to bring new girls in.
"I hope to do it all three years," said Lavoie. "It's really a year-long commitment, because after the season we still practice regularly and work on new routines.
"We go all over New England and are required to do 35 events per year. Since the team is so popular that extends to more requests for cheerleader appearances. People all across New England love everything about the Patriots, which makes my job so much more exciting."
Lavoie will finish up her courses at UMass Amherst and graduate sometime next year. Because she transferred from Lynn University after her freshman year there, some of her classes were not accepted.
As a UMass junior, she received the Noyce Scholarship, giving her free tuition in exchange for agreeing to teach math in a low-income area for two years.
"There are several schools all across New England on the list," said Lavoie. "I haven't decided if I want to teach at the middle school or high school level. But I definitely plan to teach. I'd love to be a dance instructor, too."
For now, she is happy to cheer for her favorite team, hoping the Patriots go all the way to Super Bowl XLII in Arizona.