The huge crowd is enjoying a bright, warm Colorado autumn afternoon. A young man rises from where he is seated among his friends and gazes down at several beautiful women, each one smiling and intelligent.
The young man is smitten, repeatedly, and with good cause. Egged on by his friends, he calls out a heartfelt declaration of undying devotion to the dozen women.
He is a Denver Broncos fan, so loyal that his Buddha belly is painted orange and blue. He’s in his Mile High happy place – Invesco Field in Denver – and the Broncos are winning.
The women are Denver Bronco cheerleaders, and among them is Vail Valley native Megan Brooks.
Hundreds of thousands of people watch Brooks and the Broncos cheerleaders perform live each season, and millions more watch on television.
No one has made any seriously offensive suggestions or marriage proposals, she said.
“Our fans are awesome. It’s interesting how different teams have different fans. Broncos fans are classy. I hear that from other teams, and that’s gratifying,” she said.
She had no comment about Raiders fans.
There are four lines of cheerleaders. During games, they move to a new spot in the stadium at the beginning of every quarter, so everybody gets a look at every body.
And while we’re in that neighborhood, the entire squad will be up here in July, shooting its 2012 cheerleader calendar at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch.
Earlier this month, Brooks was selected to the squad for the second straight year.
‘The whole package’
This year, around 200 women tried out for 26 spots.
The team is looking for beauty, talent, intelligence, athleticism – “the whole package,” said Teresa Shear, who helps run the cheerleader squad for the Broncos.
“They have great personalities, they’re smart, and they’re great entertainers,” Shear said.
They have to audition every year. There’s no tenure, and hundreds of women are fighting for the same job.
Tryouts last a week. Last year, they were two weeks, but Shear condensed it. The candidates still do everything, but they do it in half the time.
The first day lasted five hours and saw the number of hopefuls reduced from around 200 to 60.
Those 60 finalists went through workshops, physical and personality tests, and training sessions. They learned a couple of routines and had to pass a test about Broncos football. They have to know about football situations, what might happen next, about the players, who’s in the Ring of Fame and the Hall of Fame, and why.
The staff constantly interviews, watches and evaluates. How do they act toward the other women? How are they at conversation? Are they smart and well spoken? How do they react when something or someone unexpected shows up?
“They watch you to see how you interact with the other girls,” Brooks said.
After a week of this, they perform in the finals in front of a sold-out auditorium.
Then everyone gathers backstage to wait … and wait … and wait. Eventually, someone comes out with a pad and starts calling off numbers and names in numerical order. If they call your name, you’re in. If they don’t, you’re out.
If you’re in, you throw on your uniform and rush to the stage, where you perform with your new team for the first time. If you’re out, you watch and wonder why.
Brooks knows both emotions. She made it last year. The year before, she didn’t.
“It was more nerve racking this year because I knew what I had to lose. I was much more nervous this year,” Brooks said.
She danced at Battle Mountain High School and at the University of Colorado for four years, and she’s the Buffs’ interim coach.
“The next step up is the Broncos,” she said.
She graduated from CU in December with a degree in integrated physiology, CU’s pre-med major. All options are open.
“Most of the women have been dancing their entire lives,” Shear said. “They’re your classic overachievers.”
While they don’t travel with the team, they do travel extensively. They’re headed to the Middle East this summer to visit the troops. Not everyone gets to go, and she’s working for a spot on that plane.
“The more time you put in, the better your chances of going to places like the Middle East,” she said.
Cheerleaders are paid per game and per promotional appearance, and they earn every dime, Shear said.
Autographs can be an adventure.
“People ask them to write all sorts of things. We try to keep it professional,” Shear said. “Usually they sign, ‘Go Broncos!'”
They rehearse between eight and 10 hours a week and perform at least eight hours on football Sundays when the Broncos play in Denver.
“If the weather’s not the best, if it’s cold and snowing or if it’s 90 degrees, it’s still fun because of who you’re dancing with,” Brooks said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.