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Juwan Howard’s defection to Miami pissed on every Bullets fan’s parade this weekend and made the lack of loyalty in pro sports the talk of the town. But really now, what’s so novel about a marquee player offering his services to a higher bidder? A far more insidious illustration of the burgeoning trend against monogamy in athletics looms on the sidelines: Cheerleaders are becoming as mercenary as the jocks.
About 11,000 mostly pubescent indoor soccer fans spent their Saturday night at USAir Arena (henceforth known as The House That Juwan Razed) screaming for another Abe Pollin–owned entity, the Washington Warthogs. At the behest of the Warthogs’ masterful cheerleading squad, the crowd—whose size had been puffed up by a cereal company’s box-tops-for-tickets promotion—shriek, shriek, shrieked for the home team throughout its victory over the San Diego Sockers. But unbeknownst to the compliant shriekers, the Warthogs’ rooting crew probably needed directions to find the place.
The four-piece, bi-gender squad, which performs under the name The Boar Corps at all Warthogs home dates, was actually conceived in Winter Park, Fla., headquarters of the founder of the traveling-cheerleader concept, Sports Magic. The company’s employees live all over the U.S. and often commute great distances between gigs.
Along with inciting revelry among the local indoor soccer crowds, Sports Magic’s charges also bring the noise to a host of major and minor league baseball stadiums, along with NBA and NHL arenas. The crews’ names, routines, and attire are customized for each employer so as to hide their lack of allegiance from each set of home fans; the Warthogs’ assemblage traipses around the arena in jungle safari garb.
For the first two seasons after the team’s founding in 1993, the Warthogs (who took their name from the Britches clothing chain as part of a since-defunct sponsorship deal) used a local cheerleading team to entertain and instigate home crowds. But Dale Kaetzel, vice president of marketing for the Warthogs, says the decision to contract the Florida outfit for the current season was based on a desire to catch the diversionary wave now running through pro sports.
“It’s not that our local team wasn’t doing a good job,” says Kaetzel. “We just felt we need to provide something more, something more in the way of entertainment.”
Less than 24 hours before he was sis-boom-bahing for the Warthogs, cheerleader Jason Gulledge was whupping fans of an arena-football team, the Orlando Predators, into a frenzy. Gulledge occasionally and skillfully summons up traditional cheerleader moves—handsprings, cartwheels, backflips—to inspire Warthogs followers to behave raucously, but he quickly concedes that the varied area codes of Boar Corps members are proof enough that the times are a-changin’ in the rooting realm.
“We’ll go wherever we’re called,” Gulledge says. “This is cheerleading for the 21st century.”
Bromley Lowe of Laurel is another first-waver when it comes to rooting-for-hire. By crowd reaction, Lowe was the most popular Boar Corps-er Saturday night, probably because he’d augmented his standard safari uniform with a conehead wig. Before signing on with the Warthogs, Lowe was already serving as one of three Oriole Birds in the Camden Yards flock, a very coveted gig in mascot circles. But when the boys of summer and the baseball owners compelled that greedy strike a few years back, Lowe’s livelihood was among the incidental casualties.
So, just like a player who’d been granted free agency, Lowe put his loyalty on the open market.
“Being the Bird was my only income then, so I needed something to live on,” shrugged Lowe between periods in the Warthogs game. “I heard about [a cheering job with Sports Magic], and I took it. This is what I do.”
Amy Bowyer, a Georgetown resident, is the only Boar Corps-er to actually live inside the Beltway. Bowyer uses her Sports Magic duties as a way to stay in shape for bobsledding season—she’s currently ranked 12th in the U.S. in women’s bobsledding—and hopefully to kick start a career in improv comedy. The pro-Warthogs sentiment she works up during games is, plain and simple, evidence of her acting ability.
“I genuinely like being around the kids here, doing whatever it takes to get them involved in the games, making their time here more enjoyable,” Bowyer says. “If that helps me with the other things I want to do with my life, great. But the main reason I do this is because it’s a lot of fun.”
And when you get right down to it, adds New York–based Boar Corps member Tom Loureiro, crowds don’t give a damn if the people asking them to yell are homers at heart.
“It’s not really that hard to get everybody in the arena to go crazy,” opines Loureiro. “Just give ’em something. Anything. If it’s free, they’re gonna yell.”
He and the rest of the Boar Corps proved that point at halftime, when they sent the decibel level inside USAir Arena through the roof simply by slingshotting balled-up T-shirts (emblazoned not with the Warthogs logo, but with the call letters of a local oldies radio station) toward the rafters.
“You hear that much noise and you’d swear they were shooting stocks and bonds into the crowd,” chuckled one USAir Arena staffer about the T-shirt routine.
Warthogs officials and Boar Corps members agree that the emergence of gypsy cheering squads in pro sports is proof that team owners don’t think today’s ticket buyer can be mollified simply by seeing the roster members toil on the field of play. The value-added phenomenon, they point out, isn’t limited to fledgling pastimes like indoor soccer or arena football: The Philadelphia 76ers, despite having a rich tradition and the top pick, Allen Iverson, in the recent NBA draft to use as marketing devices, recently contracted Sports Magic to assemble a cheerleading team for their 1996-97 season.
“Not that I think the sport of indoor soccer isn’t compelling enough on its own. I think it’s a great game,” Kaetzel said. “But the goal for people in this business is to provide constant, total entertainment to our audience. That’s what we’re trying to do with the Boar Corps. That’s the trend.”
After making the statement, Kaetzel received word via walkie-talkie that a crisis was developing over in Warthog World, an arcade set up on the arena’s concourse level. Seems the radar gun in the pitching cage was on the fritz again.—Dave McKenna