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Rams cheerleader tryouts draw enthusiastic crowd

Rams cheerleader tryouts draw enthusiastic crowd

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UNIVERSITY CITY • There was hair. Lots of it. Smiles right out of a toothpaste commercial.

And, yes, with a stage full of pretty young women vying to be a St. Louis Rams cheerleader, there was on display an ample supply of what brought many of the men to this tryout.

For the first time, the Rams invited the public to be a part of the selection process. Everyone who came to The Pageant last week got a ballot to vote for their favorites. Those results were factored in to the final tallies by the six judges.

It was the Miss America pageant meets "American Idol." And it was the Rams reaching out to the public, a way to generate interest for a team that in the last decade has gone from one of the best to one that offers little to cheer about.

So why were these 36 finalists trying so hard to become a cheerleader for a team that was 1-15 last year, the worst record in the NFL? A team that hasn't had a winning season in seven years? A team that saw more and more seats filled by fans for the opponents as last season wore on?

"I'm always hopeful," said Shannon Ward, 23, who was selected for her third year as cheerleader. "I'm a very positive person."

There is excitement building. The Rams had the first pick in the NFL draft Thursday and selected Sam Bradford from Oklahoma. Such a quarterback with a marquee name could provide the on-field leadership needed to turn the team around — and the kind of hype the Rams hope will bring back fair-weather fans.

And as the Rams' ownership gets sorted out, it appears both men in the running want to keep the team in St. Louis.

All good things to cheer about.

Theresa Mancini, Rams cheerleader coordinator, says there is more at stake here than shaking pom-pons on the sidelines in the Edward Jones Dome for $75 a game.

The women, many of them college students, are ambassadors for the Rams, making more than 500 public appearances a year at golf tournaments, grand openings, awards banquets, corporate sales meetings and fundraisers. The cheerleaders have met with troops in Iraq and entertained on a Caribbean cruise.

The women at Tuesday night's tryout were judged first on poise and ease of public speaking based on a question by host D'Marco Farr, a former Rams player. The questions ranged from basic ("What was your first job?") to abstract ("What makes you happy?")

They were then critiqued on how they looked in a two-piece swimsuit (red, brown, pink and white were popular colors) and how they danced (there were some missteps but no mishaps).

It must have been assumed that all the women have team spirit. They were not asked to do any cheers.

The crowd of 1,500 — labeled a sell-out although the tickets were free —included supportive family members, many holding signs and clicking photos. And there were guys such as Brandon Stewart and Jason Hudson, both of O'Fallon, Ill. Both football fans. Both appreciators of beautiful women. The cheerleader tryouts dovetailed those interests nicely.

Shelly Harris and her friend Traci Basden, suburban moms, seemed a bit out of place — until Harris introduced her son, Nicholas.

"I like hot girls," Nicholas, 13, of St. Charles said. Basden's son, Clay Goodman, 14, expressed the same sentiment with head nods and giggles.

Both women were in the good graces of their sons, but unsure if they themselves deserved the moniker of Mother of the Year.

"I can't believe we're doing this," Basden said.

The first of the 25 women selected to be a member of the 2010 team was Emily Spriggs, 19. The announcement brought a loud, prolonged celebration of fist pumps and whoops from proud dad Don Russell standing down front.

"You OK? Don't have a heart attack," Farr said to Russell, of Eureka.

After Russell's excitement settled to a simmer and he had a little time to think about it, he said he was suffering from "apprehensive fatherhood." As a Rams season ticket holder, Russell can't wait to see his daughter cheering at the Dome. But he also knows there will be men there ogling the cheerleaders.

"About 70 percent of males go to watch the cheerleaders," said Jeff Kannel, whose sister-in-law, Jayne Cox, was among those selected.

Kannel's comment will do little to ease Russell's anxiety. But a winning season, the first since 2003, would surely help.

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