On a 30-person squad with 17 'rookies,' Mimi Kilpatrick is back for a ninth season as a Buccaneers Cheerleader
If there's any April evening most Americans dread, it's tax night. For Carole Wood, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Cheerleading Coordinator, the most taxing night of April comes a little earlier.
Well into Tuesday evening, Wood agonized over her most difficult decisions of the year, the formation of the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders squad. An original field of over 300 talented women had to be narrowed to a squad of 30, and Tuesday night was the most agonizing portion of the cuts, from 50 down to the final crew.
"In the past, it was difficult narrowing it down to the last five spots," said Wood. "I'd have about seven in the pile and have to figure out which two to cut. That was horrible. This year, it's a pile of about 15 or 20 that we have to select the last four or five from. It's extremely difficult."
But, now, it is done. This year's crew includes 13 veterans returning from last year's troupe and 17 newcomers, ranging in age from 19 to 35. Among the career-minded women who will spend much of their free time representing the Buccaneers are a speech pathologist, several teachers, an interior designer, a dentist and an assistant district attorney.
Though they come from many different walks of life, this group of 30 well-balanced women will come together into one of the team's most popular ambassador groups. Wood believes this is the strongest squad ever assembled by the Buccaneers.
"The overall (auditioning) group this year has been the best since I've been here," said Wood. "These are women with professional careers, well-rounded woman with dance talents, additional talents and phenomenal appearance.
"This will definitely be the best squad we've had."
Without further ado, let's meet that squad.
|Lakesha Bennett||Computer Program Assistant||27||Rookie|
|Angelea Castellano||Speech Pathology Graduate||22||Rookie|
|Erin Conrad||Housewife||28||3rd year Veteran|
|Angela Crawford||Full time student||21||2nd year Veteran|
|Catherine Croake||Dance Instructor||28||2nd year Veteran|
|Jessica Deauseault||Dance Instructor||22||Rookie|
|Tammy Denbo||Assistant State Attorney||26||Rookie|
|Christine Ewald||Flight Attendant||28||2nd year Veteran|
|Amy Fleck||Administrative Associate||31||2nd year Veteran|
|Cristina Gardner||Occupational Therapist||29||2nd year Veteran|
|Allyson Hall||Real Estate||24||4th year Veteran|
|Mimi Kilpatrick||Sales||35||9th year Veteran|
|Jennifer Kellner||Fragrance Model||23||Rookie|
|Kimberly Kolinski||Full time student||23||3rd year Veteran|
|Kristen Levine||Public Relations Manager||35||2nd year Veteran|
|Carrie McCune||Interior Designer||24||Rookie|
|Alison McHugh||Full time student||21||Rookie|
|Melissa Penaranda||Psychology Graduate||22||Rookie|
|Kimberly Phillips||Marketing Graduate||24||Rookie|
|Carissa Reimink||Full time student||19||Rookie|
|Ayesha Robinson||Sixth Grade Teacher||26||Rookie|
|Amyra Shaheed||District Manager||28||Rookie|
|Melissa Sherrill||Dance Instructor||20||Rookie|
|Carla Thomas||Banking & Finance||28||4th year Veteran|
|Kristin Turner||Transition Support Specialist||25||4th year Veteran|
|Leigh Vollmer||8th Grade Special Ed. Teacher||24||2nd year Veteran|
|Kimberly Wingfield||Assistant Property Manager||27||Rookie|
These 30 women survived two weeks of auditioning to meet their goal of cheering for the Buccaneers. The process started with voluntary audition workshop classes, where applicants were given an idea of the choreography and supplied with a CD of the music that would be used at the formal auditions.
On Saturday, March 24, the open preliminary auditions were held and 315 interested women showed up to give it a try. After a morning session, that field was reduced to 150, then again to 100 after an afternoon tryout. The remaining 100 returned the next day for the semifinal auditions, where any returning veterans who wanted to try again were added to the process.
From there, a final 50 were chosen, and this group was taken to a two-day training camp that included long rehearsals and instructions on dance technique, floor combinations and group dance. The applicants also filled out two quizzes designed to test their football knowledge and wrote a personal essay to Wood.
Before the final auditions, held on Tuesday evening, the remaining applicants visited One Buccaneer Place one by one to conduct a personal interview with Wood and Buccaneers Director of Special Events Maury Wilks, one of the final judges.
"In the interview, we look for who they are outside of cheerleading, and who they will be while they're a Buccaneers Cheerleader," said Wood. "We're trying to find out about the whole person, where they want to go, where they are now, their ambitions, their views about the NFL and cheerleading in general, their talents, their careers."
During the final auditions on Tuesday evening, the women were also asked to make a talent presentation, a portion of the evening that saw performances ranging from tap, flamenco dancing and ballet to singing, guitar playing and baton twirling. "We want to learn what special talents these women have because we utilize them throughout the year in variety shows during appearances," said Wood. "They could also possibly sing the national anthem at games."
According to Wilks, the supposedly enviable job of judging cheerleader tryouts was actually far from easy.
"It was a very difficult task cutting any women from this group," he said. "I discussed this with the other judges and they agreed…you think you're just going to go in there and judge cheerleaders and it will be easy. But everybody was so talented, attractive, well-spoken, intelligent…they all had the whole package, so the decisions were extremely difficult."
Wood, Wilks and Director of Game Day/Video Production Chris Kartzmark made up the final panel – and Wood herself was responsible for the ultimate decisions – but there were a variety of industry professionals used during the process.
"We had various judges throughout the different stages," said Wood. "They represented modeling and talent agencies, local media, production people, choreographers – we had a little bit of everybody. We judged in three areas: dance technique, crowd appeal and appearance. We then judged speaking skills in the final audition."
According to Wilks, the audition process is as lengthy as it is because the role of team cheerleader is a very visible and important one. "We're looking for the total package, not just a person to put into a uniform," he said. "Can they go out into the community and represent the Buccaneers? That's what we need."
And that's what they have found, perhaps more successfully than ever before. The new Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders, the women that will entertain crowds of 70,000 at Buccaneer games and represent the team in the community throughout the calendar year, will meet for the first time on Thursday evening and jump right into practices next week.
There's a full slate of appearances already scheduled for April and May. It's time to get to work, but first, a moment to celebrate.