Sunday, January 20, 2008
By Jeffrey Petrin
Jessica Wanzie is a huge New England Patriots fan. In fact, the 20-year-old Shelton native has attended every home game this season.
Every time the Pats are at Gillette Stadium, Wanzie is there, dressed head-to-toe in her Patriots gear. The difference between her and most Patriots fans is her view of the game.
Wanzie, along with 23 other beautiful women adorned in sparkled, red-silver-and-blue outfits, spend each game cheering along with the Foxboro, Mass., crowd in support of quarterback Tom Brady and his teammates.
"The atmosphere is so intense in Gillette Stadium. It's hard not to get caught up in it," Wanzie said. "The music's blasting, the players are getting pumped up, and the fans are going crazy. I couldn't ask for a better way to spend my Sunday."
In April, Wanzie was chosen from a pool of 300 candidates to become one of the 24 New England Patriots cheerleaders. By the end of the first day, the field had been cut to 65 and Wanzie was still standing and dancing and cheering.
Two weeks later, Wanzie would find herself participating in the semifinals. Having established their abilities to learn routines, the women were then put through the trials of becoming "spokesmodels" for the team.
"The first (trial) was a bathing suit competition where each girl had to walk on stage modeling her bikini. The second was an interview with a panel of judges to test our media skills. The swimsuit portion of the tryouts were surprisingly the least stressful for me. I just knew as long as I walked out there with confidence, I would be fine," she says. "The only thing I was worried about was tripping on the stage with my high heels."
Jessica dressed up for Halloween
The field was cut from 65 to 35 after a freestyle and a high-kick routine. Following the final practice, the 24 women that made the squad were announced.
When Wanzie heard her name, it was a dream come true. She has spent most of her life rooting for her home teams. "I have been cheering since I was 6. ... I cheered right from Pop Warner through high school."
For Wanzie, enrolled at St. Vincent's College in Bridgeport, becoming a cheerleader fit well into her football-oriented family. Her father, Dennis Wanzie, coached Wilbur Cross High School's football program for eight years, and is now head coach at Bassick High in Bridgeport.
"My dad coaching football was a great influence on me. ... He passed his love of the sport down to me and my brother. I would go to all his games and of course I would just idolize the cheerleaders that were on the sidelines. My father taught me all about the game, so it made it that much more fun to cheer for the sport because I was able to understand what was happening on the field," she said.
The unbeaten Patriots have spent the past week prepping for Saturday nights playoff game with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Wanzie and the other cheerleaders are also in playoff mode.
"Every practice we do sit-ups and push-ups," she says. "The hardest is when we run the 13-story high ramps at the stadium. It was definitely hard to get used to that, but it's a great workout. I feel so good when I complete it," she said.
Much like the members of the team, Wanzie has hopes of making it to the Super Bowl. "If (they make it), our squad will be right there in Arizona with them. It's the only away game we're allowed to attend, and in my book, that's all right with me. We've already began putting extra time in practicing, getting ready for all the what ifs."
Whether New England makes it to the Super Bowl or not, Wanzie's season doesn't end after the big game. The Patriots Cheerleaders are ambassadors of sorts, working year-round with various charities and making public appearances.
Wanzie, who wouldn't say what she was paid to be a cheerleader other than to say "it is a part-time job," says her charity work is one of the most rewarding parts of being a cheerleader in the NFL. Recently, she was involved in an event to raise money for people who couldn't afford medical treatment. "It's a blessing to be a part of these events and I feel honored to be asked to attend and help with such a great cause," she says.
The official end of Wanzie's season is in March, when she'll have to try out again for the squad.
"Each year we have to re-audition. We can only be on the squad for a maximum of three years. I would love to live out the full term of the three years," the rookie cheerleader says.
Following her run with the Pats, Wanzie would like to continue to entertain. "I would love to find a way to keep performing. It's my passion, and if I could, I would do it for the rest of my life."