Monday, March 31, 2008

Barzac Serves Bandettes Well 

Posted by James at 12:28 PM ET

By Tom Borrelli
The Buffalo News
Jessica Barzac commits 15 to 17 hours a week for the right to dance at Buffalo Bandits home games.

That’s in addition to holding down a job, attending college and spending time with her husband.

So why isn’t the 23-year-old Niagara Falls native having time management issues?

“I call her the military sister of the group,” said Erin Jackson, manager of the Buffalo Bandettes dance team. A moniker well-earned.

Barzac, in her first season with the 15-woman squad, was patrolling waters in the Persian Gulf not so long ago. She enlisted and spent four years (2003-07) on active duty in the Navy, six months of it as a boatswain’s mate aboard the USS Carl Vinson.

Even Bandits transition man Pat McCready, a police detective by day who will drop the gloves against the best fighters in the National Lacrosse League, has nothing on Barzac in the toughness department.

Jessica, Buffalo Bandettes

“I dropped anchor, moored the ropes to the piers, was in force protection and stood watch with a .50 caliber,” said Barzac, a Niagara-Wheatfield graduate who returned to Western New York in August. “I’d stand watches all over the ship and worked transferring cargo and fuel from ship to ship. We were on a support mission and our planes did go to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Barzac joined the service right after high school without reservation, despite the volatility abroad.

“I was pretty set on going in the military,” said Barzac, a former member of the Niagara Royalettes who has been dancing since age 4. “I wanted to serve my country. My dad was in the Navy, my grandfather was in the military. My brother [James Hill] is in the Army and stationed in Bremerton [Wash.] in special forces. He’s been in for four years and reenlisted for three more.”

While on shore duty in the state of Washington, Barzac was assigned to a post office. She found time to dance for the West (Puget) Sound Saints semipro football team and to get a head start on college.

After being transferred to Fort Lewis, 15 miles southwest of Tacoma in Pierce County, she became a Postal Clerk 3rd Class and received an award for Military Education Student of the Year from Olympic College in Bremerton.

She earned her associate’s degree while in the service and is currently on schedule to graduate from Niagara University in May 2009 with a bachelor’s in tourism recreation management.

As for her Persian Gulf tour, Barzac says she came away better for the experience.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about everybody who’s over there,” she said. “While I was there I wasn’t scared because I was surrounded by a wonderful group of people I had faith in. My chain of command was awesome and everybody around me was great to work with.

“I don’t think I was in that much danger being on the ship. It’s one of the most well-protected ships. We had a whole battle group so I felt pretty safe.”

Barzac is in the Individual Ready Reserves until 2010 and could be called up at any time.

“I have to muster once a year and if they needed me I’d go back in a second,” she said. “Obviously I don’t have a choice, but it wouldn’t be a problem at all for me.”

She and her teammates practice three times a week, from 7-10 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, then again for at least an hour on game days before the players arrive. That’s a lot more organized practice time than the Bandits, who are limited to one session a week by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the Professional Lacrosse Players’ Association.

What you see on the field isn’t all there is to the Bandettes. The team is involved with charitable causes all over Western New York, including fundraisers for Women and Children’s Hospital, the world’s largest disco for Camp Good Days and Special Times, 1980s roller skating parties to benefit leukemia, plus events for the American Cancer Society, Hunter’s Hope and juvenile diabetes.

“If you need someone at an appearance, [Barzac has] got her hand up,” said Jackson, who spent a combined nine years in the Army and the reserves. “Having been in the military myself, I can really see it in her. She brings a certain amount of maturity. She’s the one who is quiet and focused.”

The Bandettes Junior Dance Team, made up of 25 girls between the ages of 7 and 17, includes 8-year-old Andie Bomberry, daughter of Bandits hard-shooting forward Cory Bomberry, who sports a T-shirt reading “My Little Bandette,” presented by her dad.

“I want the [Bandettes] to know them all by name,” said Jackson, whose team runs dance camps for the Juniors. “They love being around the kids. I have them teach the dances to the little girls because they want to learn from the Bandettes. You can tell by the way they interact and laugh with them that they love being role models.”

Jessica at Bandits.com (Registration Required)

Out list of Cheerleaders who served in the military here.

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