Cheerleader jokes aside, another popular response to my Tiger-Cat team membership was:
"Have you ever been to a football game before?"
Truth be told, I'd never even watched an entire CFL game, much less ventured to Ivor Wynne or the Rogers Centre. My last field experience was high school when it was cool to date football players. I still have a Valentine card signed, "Josh Cline #12."
So this meant I'd never encountered a professional sports fan in the context of a team-related event, and obviously never as a cheerleader for that team. 'Normal' fan behaviour is something I'm still getting used to.
The first thing I've noticed is that upon learning I'm a Ticat cheerleader, people-both young and old-feel obligated to tell me all pieces of information they have regarding either the Ticats or cheerleaders in general.
When adults find out, they tend to say things like, "Oh, you're a cheerleader? Mike's daughter used to cheer for the Argos." To which I reply with a smile and a polite nod. I don't know anyone involved in cheerleading who isn't part of the Ticats team this year, and I don't know Mike. But I guess I should be glad that they fill the silence with a pleasant, if pointless, fact.
Everyone wants to show connection to team
The things kids say to me are much more entertaining. When I did a promotional event at a day camp in Burlington, Ont., the group was playing a game of dodge ball with Stripes, our mascot. One little girl with pigtails got hit, and ran around to where I was standing as she waited to be called back in.
She tapped me on the arm and took a deep breath.
"Jesse Lumsden used to live next door to my babysitter," she said.
Before I could think of an appropriate response, a girl standing on the other side of me joined in.
"Last week my dad went to SportChek and he met Casey Printers."
Maybe the girls assumed I knew the guys, or maybe they just wanted to show their connection to the team. I was just impressed that 10-year-olds knew the players' names, but maybe that's a sign of my lack of knowledge when it comes to sports culture.
Another thing I've noticed is that often it's not the fan behaviour itself that dictates the response from cheerleaders. There's a fine line between funny and scary. And the question to ask here is, how old is the fan in question?
Scene 1: Pre-season game at Ivor Wynne. End of fourth quarter. My squad walks from the northeast corner to the southeast corner. Cue lewd comments from the end zone bleachers, including "You girls are hot! Do you want to get busy later?" accompanied by motions I'd prefer not to describe.
Age of verbal offenders: No more than 12 years old.
Funny? I think so. We couldn't help but laugh.
Scene 2: Restaurant patio party promotional event in Burlington. After reading out raffle winners, the four of us decide to dance with the band. Fan approaches, tells us we're beautiful and asks if we mind if he brings out his video camera.
Age of aspiring videographer: by the looks of his graying ponytail, the wrong side of forty.
Less explicit than the obscene gestures from the end zone, but not so funny.
First names only
Then there's the matter of signing autographs. The first thing I learned was not to include my last name.
"We want to keep stalkers to a minimum," said Lesley. I wonder what counts as a minimum?
But of course that's not what was on my mind as 20 kids lined up in their new Tiger-Cat T-shirts after Cheer Camp. They couldn't wait for the white cotton to be covered in black Sharpie-penned names.
Was I as eager when a man waited outside the Balsam gates on game day with an envelope of cheerleader photos? Asking us to see if we could pick ourselves out and autograph his envelope? I was a bit taken aback.
But later that day Lesley handed out our cheerleading team posters, of which we have to sell a certain quantity. So as strange as it felt to walk around advertising a photo of myself and the other girls, it's all part of the gig.
And as surprised as I was to be met at the gates by a stack of photos, Lea and Christine just smiled and signed their names without a second thought.
Just another friendly Tiger-Cat fan.