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Maybe America really isn’t a place where all the girls want to be cheerleaders anymore. But Dave Foreman, who with his wife Rosemary manages the Redskinettes, is pretty damn sure that it’s still a place where anybody who isn’t a cheerleader wants to make fun of those who are.
“There’s no need to even do any interviews or meet any of the girls if you’re going to just say mean things about them,” Foreman huffs, just as soon as I inquire about writing a story on his squad. “Just go ahead and write it. That stuff’s too easy! And the girls work too hard to have to read that.”
Foreman quickly insists that his extreme mistrust of the media when it comes to the Redskinettes is a learned attribute. But after a few minutes he nevertheless agrees to let me sit in on a practice session—as long as I will show up at a certain time, leave when he wants me to, and interview only the girls Rosemary designates. I agree to his terms, albeit a bit uneasily.
But as soon as I arrive at the squad’s rehearsal space in Fairfax, my uneasiness abates, as it becomes clear that the Foremans’ rules aren’t only for journalists.
“Am I late? I’m so sorry!” one young woman, running into the gym right behind me wearing a burgundy warmup and a panicky smile, says to Rosemary. “The traffic was really, really backed up on 270!” Over the next several minutes, other cheerleaders, with increasingly fearful countenances, offer up customized versions of the same excuse to Ms. Foreman as they enter the gym. It occurs to me that I haven’t seen these facial expressions or heard such desperate pleading since home room in high school.
“We have rules, and the girls know that the rules have to be followed,” she tells me, shortly after the last of the 34 Redskinettes has shown up.
Luckily for the tardy cheerleaders, the Foremans had already heard all about the massive traffic tie-ups around the Beltway over the radio. So on this night, no penalties will be doled out…on this night only. Normally, a one-game suspension of cheering privileges will be imposed on anybody who shows up late or misses any of the two or three practices the squad holds each week.
The attendance and punctuality standards are just two of the many edicts the Foremans have enacted in the nine years since they signed a licensing deal with Jack Kent Cooke and took over the NFL’s longest-running (and most heavily garbed) cheerleading act.
The Foremans also have a ban on any and all romantic involvement with the players they cheer for. “You want to know the quickest way to get kicked off the squad? Date a player,” says Dave. “Do it once, you’re gone. That’s it. No questions asked.” Only one Redskinette has ever been caught breaking the dating rule. “We had to let her go,” Foreman says, though he doesn’t explain why he regards a cheerleader/player liaison as so unseemly. And there are restrictions regarding weight gain. “When a girl is selected as a Redskinette, we weigh her, and we list that as her ideal weight and keep it in our records,” explains Rosemary. “They’re told that. They read that. They know they’re expected to follow that. If they go over that weight, we will send the girls warnings.” Weigh-ins are held once each week. There is also a prohibition against excessive alcohol use or any consumption of drugs.
Although nobody has to pee in a cup, the Foremans take what some might regard as pretty intense steps to try to weed out potential breakers of that last rule before they ever don a Redskinettes uniform. A sweet cartwheel and flawless splits aren’t enough to make you one of the few and the proud at RFK.
“The most important part of the tryout, as far as I’m concerned, is the interview process that we put all the girls through,” says Rosemary.
Interview? For a cheerleading position that requires incredible dedication, as well as more hours and less pay—no pay, actually—than a part-time job?
“Oh, sure. These girls are role models for the community,” adds Dave. “You don’t want to find out that a role model is involved in using drugs, or the distribution of drugs, so we ask a lot of questions to try to find out how they feel about drugs.”
Actually, the Foremans don’t ask the questions. They hire a team of FBI interrogators from Quantico to come to the tryouts to grill the girls.
“A typical question we would use is, ‘How do you feel about Marion Barry?’ ” says Dave. “That’s a hard question, but you listen for the answer, and if a girl says, ‘I condone what he did. I think it’s his own business,’ well, the first thing that comes to your mind is that they must not have any feelings against the use of drugs at all. That could be a problem for us, as far as morals are concerned.”
Even with the austere rules, there are a whole lot of women who want to be Redskinettes: More than 200 wannabes try out every year.
And no matter how wacky their means, the Foremans really have assembled a pretty damn impressive bunch of, well, role models.
Take, for example, Erica Kilpatrick: 23 years old. Howard graduate. Spokesperson for Drug Czar Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey. Babe. “The only person that’s more excited about me being a Redskinette than me is my mother,” gushes Kilpatrick. “She’s used to me working for the White House by now, but she’s still crazy about me being a cheerleader.”
Or Holly Edwards: 21 years old. Rookie Redskinette. Math degree from Loyola University. Software engineer. Babe. “Being a Redskinette gives me the opportunity to keep doing what I love doing, and that’s dancing,” bubbles Edwards. “And all the other engineers in my office are amazed when they find out they work with a real NFL cheerleader.”
Or Noelle Manasco: 26 years old. Redskinettes captain. Works with premature newborns as occupational therapist at neonatal intensive care unit of Fairfax Hospital. Babe. “Cheering at RFK Stadium on game day is an incredible experience, and it makes all the work seem worth it,” says Manasco.
Manasco finds the cheerleading position so fulfilling, she says, that she’s not even bothered by the “smile practice” that all Redskinettes must put in during rehearsals. Believe it or not, all squad members are required by the Foremans to wear a smile at all times during rehearsals. When I hear about the smile mandate, on top of the dating rules, weight regulations, FBI interrogations, and all the other crap the women have to put up with just so they can cheer on Sundays for no pay, I go to Sheryl Olecheck, the squad’s choreographer and member of longest standing, with one final, obvious question: Can you honestly say that being a Redskinette is the least bit fun?
“Oh, it’s so rewarding!” responds Olecheck.
Rewarding, shmewarding, I quip. Is it fun?
“That depends on how you define fun,” she says.
Good answer.—Dave McKenna