Sunday, April 16, 2000

Being a BenGal something to cheer about

Squad is all work, but all fun, coordinator says

BY Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Charlotte Jacobs bristles, then tackles the question:

[photo] Charlotte Jacobs
(Joseph Fugua III photo)
| ZOOM |
        “Dumb is a big subject with me. I heard it all the time when I was a cheerleader — dumb, bimbo, all of it. But I was standing there with two college degrees, making six figures a year and cheering because I wanted to, not because I was dumb.”

        Heaven knows, she's had a plenty long time to hear it, first as a BenGal for 12 years, then as BenGal coordinator for the past six, a paid position that puts her in charge of all phases of BenGal life, from tryouts to on-field performances to guest appearances.

        “You know what? On last year's squad we had several nurses and teachers, one doctor (ob-gyn), a med student and a pre-law student.”

        Not to mention squad leader Ms. Jacobs, a Miami University grad with degrees in education and office administration. Her day job is senior sales exec for Pitney Bowes, one of 4,000 in the United States but good enough to be invited to Bermuda in May as one of the company's top 22 sales leaders.

        So, here's Ms. Jacobs now, all 5-foot-4 of her, still the 107-pound size 3 she was when she began cheering for the Bengals her first year out of college.

        Making her how old? “Oooooh, do I have to? Can't I just tell you my shoe size? Or that I live in West Chester, divorced and have a 13-year-old daughter and a boyfriend in Hyde Park?”

        No, but you can tell us: How hard is it to cheer for a team that doesn't have much to cheer about?

        “I've thought a lot about that and what it comes down to is this: the girls are performers and the show must go on, regardless of the score. We're glad when they win, but we have a job to do and that's to entertain. We leave the rest to the coaches.”

        “Performers” is the key word here, and Ms. Jacobs needs some. Now.

        Every spring she conducts BenGal tryouts, looking for women trained in dance (all styles) willing to spend the summer learning routines, rehearse three times a week in fall and winter, plus work 10 Sunday afternoons. All for the princely sum of $50 a game.

        “It's not great money, but that's OK. I'm looking for performers with desire and drive. They need it, because every Sunday they have to go out there, sometimes in weather you can't imagine, knowing at least 17 routines. And there's no faking it.”

        This year's squad will total 24 cheerleaders and six or eight alternates. All, except last year's captain, have to try out every year.

BenGal tryouts are at the Gregory Center, 601 E. Pete Rose Way, downtown.

Preliminaries are 5 p.m. April 30 and 1 p.m. May 7. Semi-finals are May 10. Finals, 1 p.m. May 21, are open to the public.

There's a noon April 22 clinic at Spinney Field. Hopefuls must be at least 20, employed or a student and live in Cincinnati or within a 40-mile radius of the stadium.

Registration required; call 621-3550, ext. 180.

        There are usually 150 tryouts in two preliminary sessions. The field is narrowed down in semis and finals. Ms. Jacobs judges preliminaries and semis. A team of pros — glamour-industry types, dancers, ex-cheerleaders — judge the finals.

        “And trust me, once they get the job, they work. People don't always understand, but what they do on the field is only part of the job. Besides time to learn routines, then rehearse them and go out on personal appearances, mostly for charity.”

        The annual Delhi Skirt game in August, for example. Or the Cystic Fibrosis celebrity waiters' luncheon in November. Or Kindervelt events (“we just modeled at a luncheon and made $18,000”) plus four visits a year to Air Force bases and visits to hospitals to cheer patients.

        “That's another reason I bristle at this "dumb' stuff. They work hard. They have jobs or are students, yet they're out doing all this other stuff all week.

        “It's the sort of thing I want to do more of. The kinds of things that will get the word out that we're here and we're good.”

        Good enough to coax Ms. Jacobs back on the field? “No way. I'm a trained dancer, but only in my kitchen now. I work out with the girls and learn routines, but at practice only.

        “My major enjoyment comes out of putting a product on the field. I never would have believed I could be that proud and get that excited vicariously. Even after cheering in two Super Bowls, I never felt like that.”

        Something else that has her excited is a recent trip to Los Angeles where she stayed with her friends Pete (yes, THE Pete Rose) and Carol Rose, and accompanied them to the Young Artists Awards, a sort of Oscar deal for kids.

        Their 10-year-old Chea Courtney was nominated for her role in the soap Passions. “Carol and I have been friends since we were BenGals together I don't know how many years ago,” she says, fiddling with a tiny gold Bengal helmet charm hanging around her neck. “A squad gave it to me a few years ago,” she says of the necklace. “This year, they gave me massage certificates, because my new goal is to remove stress from my life.

        “It sounds simple, but for me it's hard, considering I'm a major triple Type A personality. But with two jobs ...

        “Quitting is out of the question. I've been with Pitney Bowes and the Bengals since college. I'm a major creature of habit. I'm going to continue as long as I'm standing.”


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