In the days leading up to Oct. 31, I was asked on more than one occasion if I was going to be a cheerleader for Halloween.
My first instinct was to answer with a perfectly straight face: "No, I'm actually a cheerleader on normal days," and then walk away.
Instead I smiled and explained that in our first team meeting, Lesley discouraged us from using or lending out our uniforms for such an occasion. This makes sense on a night where stains could range from chocolate to red wine. "Are you allowed to wear your glasses when you're cheerleading?" is another question that people seem to get a kick out of when I leave my contact lenses at home.
I'm not sure what the point of this one is. If I say no, will the female interrogators launch into a rant on the discrimination of girls who look bookish?
The truth is I have no idea if we're allowed to wear glasses. No one has ever worn them to practice or games, probably because they would fly off during a turn or forward bend. The owner would then be dancing blind and the glasses would probably poke someone else's eye out on the way to their destruction under our feet. Are you allowed to wear glasses when you're playing football?
These and other questions strike me as worthy of an eye-roll, yet they got me thinking about the Tiger-Cat cheerleader code of behaviour.
And I think it boils down to the ability to control ourselves so that we appear calm, composed and friendly at all times. And maybe I'm alone on this one, but my instinctual reaction was not originally to be pleasant, so it seemed easier said than done.
Lesley has emphasized that we are ambassadors for the entire Tiger-Cat franchise, and that we should keep that in mind when involved in Ticat events, but even more generally in public. We're like politicians, but less sinister.
For instance, when we walked out at the Oct. 24 game in our down-feathered jackets, a fan yelled, "It's not THAT cold" from his seat in the stands.
Did I yell back, "I'd like to see YOU stand on the sidelines for three hours in a half-top!"
No, I did not. I smiled and waved.
As I passed a row of 10-year-old boys who had their hands out for high-fives from our poms, I led our squad over so we could reach them. When the last one grabbed onto my pom and tried to rip it out of my hand with a force quite startling for someone half my size, did I "accidentally" knock him in the face in an attempt to recover my pom?
No. I just laughed and held on until the little monster moved on to his next victim.
Then there was the time I was talking to Linda and Rachel in our makeshift change-room at the Rogers Centre for the Argos game. Out of nowhere a man who spoke very little English sidled up holding his camera out in front of us, ready to take a photo with himself in the centre.
I understand that we're expected to take photos with fans, but generally they ask us first. Or at least wave us down to warn us.
Linda and Rachel, who've been cheerleading for many years, didn't even flinch and smiled easily for the flash, looking interested as the man said something I couldn't interpret. Looks like security is a little looser in Toronto.
Then there are the moments when it's not clear what to say. My favourite was selling posters from a table at Ivor Wynne at one of the last games. A couple from Buffalo came over and started talking to Lea, Christine and I.
"These posters look great. You girls should come down to Buffalo for a game," said the husband. He looked at us expectantly, awaiting a reply.
To do what exactly? I wondered. Watch the game in our Ticat uniforms? Try to sell our posters at an NFL match? Storm the field with a portable CD player early 1990s-style and break into our routine?
An optimistic "Mmm," is what ended up coming out of my mouth.
Sometimes I think it's no wonder people joke that cheerleaders are mindless; what on earth can we do but sit there, smiling and nodding, so as not to insult the fans?
I remember my cheermate Andrea calling this "turning it on" — a break-into-a-smile-and-say-something-positive skill. She says it's helped her with public speaking and situations dealing with people in other areas of her life.
And I've come to agree with her.