The new Buccaneers Cheerleaders had just two weeks to come together before their first big performance
Leigh Vollmer is only 27, and her primary work is in behavioral health, yet she has already served as an ambassador to Egypt, Uzbekistan and, on two occasions, Germany.
That happens when you're a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader.
Vollmer and the rest of the 2004 Buccaneers Cheerleaders – a squad selected just one month ago – recently returned from the squad's latest overseas good will tour. For the second time in four years, Tampa Bay's crew was invited by the NFL Europe League to cheer for the American football-crazed fans of Germany, this time at the league's championship game, World Bowl XII.
"We got to go over and represent the Buccaneers, and that was exciting," said Vollmer who, as a fifth-year veteran, is the squad's ranking member (along with fellow fifth-year vet Jennifer Abbott). "We were proud that they picked us. We were really honored to be chosen. They pick a different cheerleading team from the NFL every year, and we've been picked several times, so it's a big honor to be chosen."
As it turns out, it was also quite a challenge. The Buccaneers revamped their selection process this year, calling on the expertise of the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency, and the auditions were not completed until late May. Usually, the new squad is formed in March or early April. Roughly half of the 2004 squad is comprised of rookies, and any hope that the new group would have several months to jell was foiled by this trip to Germany, which had been planned during the 2003 NFL season.
It was a welcome challenge, however, and one the 28-women squad was able to meet through hard work and perseverance.
"We didn't have any time," said Sandy Charboneau, the Bucs' cheerleading coordinator. "I had three rehearsals before we went out there, and half the squad is new. We had to put together a four-minute routine in almost no time.
"And they did phenomenally well. The routine was flawless. I was very proud of them. The crowd seemed very excited to have us there. They have cheerleaders for the teams in NFL Europe, but our look and our style is very different from theirs."
The Bucs were a featured part of halftime at the World Bowl which was won by the Berlin Thunder, 30-24, over the Frankfurt Galaxy on Saturday, June 12. The championship game included elaborate pregame and halftime shows and, fortuitously, they were pirate-themed.
The crowd at the indoor Arena Aufschulke in Rhein, Germany clearly enjoyed the cheerleaders' performance, giving the Buc ambassadors a sustained ovation.
"It was very exciting," said Vollmer, who complimented the squad's rookies on their work under pressure. "The stadium was packed and it was so loud, one of the loudest indoor stadiums I've ever heard. I think they really enjoy it, and I'm glad that we could be a part of it."
Charboneau, in her second year in charge of the squad, was proud of what her performers were able to do on such short notice.
"Coming off the field, they were really full of emotion," she said. "They knew they had done well, and the crowd at the World Bowl was so loud. It was kind of like being at one of the Lightning's playoff games, because they had those sticks and they had whistles. It's extremely loud in there, even compared to our games."
The Buccaneer cheerleaders had some inkling that they would be well-received, as they were met by fans even before they left the airport. Charboneau was pleasantly surprised to find that the Bucs had a strong fan base in Germany, and a good number of those fans remembered the cheerleaders' last appearance in Europe, at a Rhein Fire game three years ago.
"Everywhere we went there were people wanting autographs," said Charboneau. "There were fans of our squad from that experience three years ago, a lot of them with pictures they had taken then and calendars from that year that they wanted signed."
The Buccaneer ladies signed every autograph and worked hard to make friends while in Germany. As hard as the team worked on its impromptu performance, it was just as determined to project a positive image.
"We want to show people that we're real, down-to-earth women," said Vollmer. "We want to make a good impression; we don't want the stereotypical cheerleader image to come across when we're representing the Buccaneers. We try to do that by being personable, outgoing and thankful, and making sure they know we appreciate the opportunity."
The young women were in Europe for five days, which did leave some time for tourist activities, despite an emphasis on last-minute rehearsals. The squad visited a breathtaking cathedral in Cologne and spent time sightseeing and shopping in Dusseldorf.
The highlight of the trip, though, was that four-minute halftime routine on the 12th. In addition to spreading the Bucs' good name, the cheerleaders, veteran and rookie alike, received some much-needed game-day action in preparation for the 2004 NFL campaign.
"They were so excited," said Charboneau. "It was a good dress rehearsal for them to get some experience on a football field before our season starts. Like I said, our auditions were later than usual, so we have less time to get ready. Plus, it was a good bonding experience for our girls. We had only been together for two weeks, but the trip brought everybody closer right off the bat."