Saturday, February 02, 2008
By Peter Silas Pasqua
Gonzalez Weekly Citizen
Gonzalez Weekly Citizen
When the New Orleans Saintsations take the field next season they will be doing so without a mainstay from the past four years.
Donaldsonville native Kalli Schexnayder Aucoin will no longer grace the sidelines of the Louisiana Superdome, after a new rule was enforced last year allowing Saints cheerleaders only four years to perform with the squad.
"Being on the sidelines is such an amazing experience that I am really going to miss it," Aucoin said. "I am such a huge Saints fan. Those are the best seats in the house that I could possibly get. I don't even have a season ticket for next year, so I will go from four years being up close and personal to not even having a ticket."
Aucoin says she is trying to round up a ticket for next season.
"I don't care where it is," Aucoin said. "I just want to be there. It is an amazing experience. I have been through so much. Just the people that you meet and the things that you do. It is hard to let that go in itself."
Aucoin, the daughter of Charles and Geri Schexnayder, said it is hard to remember who the Saints played the first time she performed, but she does remember waiting in the tunnel to run out onto the field.
"I happened to be the first one to run out," Aucoin said. "It was my first game ever and I was the first one to run out. I was just so scared that I would run and trip."
It had been Aucoin's dream to be a Saintsation since she took dance lessons from former Saintsation Angie Waguespack in Donaldsonville as a young girl. She went on to be the captain of Ascension Catholic High School's Sunshine Girls dance team and waited several years after graduation to try out for the Saintsations.
"I remember being at dance recitals and (Waguespack) would get (the Saintsations) to perform," Aucoin said. "I remember looking up and thinking to myself, ‘I want to do that one day.'"
Aucoin was one of 300 girls who auditioned four years ago and was chosen every year since.
"It is a very strenuous process," Aucoin said. "I didn't realize trying out for cheerleading would be that hard. It is more than just dancing. We actually take tests on the NFL and the Saints."
Aucoin said she got used to the environment that first year, but her second year changed the face of the organization forever.
"I actually remember when Katrina passed," Aucoin said. "We had a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Superdome the Friday night before. In the third quarter, they always have a weather update and that is when they said the hurricane was coming and told everybody to evacuate. The look on peoples' faces right then and there was scary."
The Saints first home game was moved to New York and the remaining games were played at the Alamodome in San Antonio or Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
"The NFL actually flew us up to New York and paid for everything," Aucoin said. "We even had appearances on TV shows. Just walking in Times Square, people would stop us and say, ‘We are praying for you.' It was great to hear that from New Yorkers. Everybody said the New York fans are ruthless, but they kept telling us encouraging things. Saints signs were everywhere, the stadium was decorated in black and gold but it still wasn't home."
Aucoin said after one of the first trips to San Antonio, the Saintsations visited shelters that people were bussed to from the Superdome.
"We actually spoke to people that had season tickets for years and they were in these shelters telling us ‘Go Saints,'" Aucoin said. "It was awesome hearing that from them. They were in shelters and had nothing but they still wanted the Saints to go out and play."
But no matter where they went that year and what they did to make it appear like the Saints' home field, it couldn't compare to the Superdome, Aucoin said.
"We would get an e-mail the Friday before a game telling us we had to be at Tiger Stadium to get on a bus at 4 a.m. to San Antonio," Aucoin said. "To be bused for that long every other weekend was very tough. We lost a lot of members that year but for those stuck it through, it was worth it."
Aucoin remembers being outside during a the countdown to the moment when they would open the doors to the restored Superdome for the Saints' first home game against Atlanta.
"Just looking at peoples' faces and seeing tears going down their cheeks," Aucoin said. "It was just an awesome experience to be a part of it. I remember when Green Day and U2 were playing ‘The Saints are Coming.' Nobody knew the song, but everybody was screaming and everybody had goose bumps. Everybody in that stadium had tears running down their cheeks. It was something that you could not explain knowing what the city had been through. There wasn't an empty seat or a dry eye."
Aucoin said the Saints became America's team, but didn't want to carry that handle.
Her most memorable experience was the 2006 divisional playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We always talked about how loud it was for the Atlanta game," Aucoin said. "We never expected the Philadelphia game to top that. People were yelling and screaming and making any noise they possibly could. Even after the game, people didn't leave. We used to joke that there is the fire alarm. It wasn't like that anymore."
Saintsations are required to have 20 appearances throughout the community each season, mostly with youth who are often awestruck when they meet them.
"We do a lot more than that," Aucoin said. "It is a great feeling to see that in little kids that we are positive role models."
Aucoin also appeared on the cover of the Saintsations calendar this year in a swimsuit created by her mother, Geri.
"I knew this was my last year so I wanted to go all out with it. I wanted to make a swimsuit that would leave a lasting impression," Aucoin said. "I took my Aaron Brooks jersey and I cut it up."
But Aucoin had to get her mother to sew it together for the next day.
"When I got to the shoot, everybody looked at me and said, "That is it. That is the cover," Aucoin said.
"When the photographer saw Kalli she said, ‘Hold everything. Come see what the country bumpkin has on,'" added Geri. "She is on everything. All of the photographers know Kalli is the best. Every time something is printed or published, Kalli is the picture that they go to."
Aucoin said it is "kind of shocking" to be so recognized.
"You don't realize what you mean to the community and the organization," Aucoin said.
Looking back, Aucoin said she never thought she would be married, with a degree and working for the District Attorney all while be a NFL cheerleader. She married fellow Donaldsonville native Chad Aucoin last year and is a Nicholls State University graduate.
"When I think about next year, it brings tears to my eyes," Aucoin said. "It is tough to walk away from something like that."
The Saintsations will participate in two Mardi Gras parades before a year-ending get-together.
"That is probably going to be the hardest part," Aucoin said. "Some of these girls I have known for four years and have seen them four or five times a week. It is going to hard just knowing I will be losing the closeness of those friendships."