Carpenter, now 28, hadn't thought too much about cheerleading in the two years since he'd graduated college. "But I knew I didn't want to just stare at Excel spreadsheets for the rest of my life," he said. Carpenter dropped by for a practice, and joined the squad. Five years later, he's a captain.
For the past 30 years, college and professional cheerleading have evolved in opposite directions. College teams moved towards competitive cheer, their squad members pulling off intricate tumbling passes; throwing basket tosses, where a girl flies 30 feet in the air; building human pyramids, where a slip can send a dozen people tumbling to the ground; and performing partner stunts, where "flyers" pull acrobatic moves, balancing in the palm of their partner's hands. Professional cheerleaders, on the other hand, followed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders model. Decked out in booty shorts and cropped tops, they shake and shimmy on the sidelines of games, miniature pom-poms in hand.
But lately, more professional sports teams have added stunt squads to their entertainment roster. These teams, made up of male and female cheerleaders, echo the college model with high-flying, gymnastic moves. The Portland Trail Blazers started their stunt squad in 1993. Now, the Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers all have stunt squads. One NFL team -- the Baltimore Ravens -- even has one.
Nuggets entertainment director
Running a stunt team is not cheap. The squads generally have between 20 and 40 members, and the Ravens cheerleaders, for example, are paid $100 per game, plus as much as $90 for community appearances. The average cheerleading uniform costs $200, and most pro squads have multiple crystal-encrusted getups. Add insurance fees to the mix and
To foot the bill, teams often turn to sponsors. Kia is the benefactor of the Clippers Fan Patrol stunt team, and the Jazz's squad was sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Utah, who paid a cool $150,000 a year to cover the squad's cost, plus get in-arena advertising on the Jumbotron every time the squad took the floor. But this year, at the last minute, the Dairy Farmers pulled out. "We didn't have time to figure out something else, so we don't have a stunt team this year," Harrison said. "We hope to have them back next year."
Meanwhile, Ravens cheer director
Stunt squad members range in age from 18 to well into their 30s, and they hold a wide variety of day jobs. Some are lawyers, others teachers and personal trainers. One Ravens' squad member is even an eye doctor.
Performing on a professional team is different from the college experience. "In college, teams get three months to learn a three-minute Nationals routine," said Christopher John, who coaches the Nuggets stunt team along with his wife,
Both Mayfield and Spates agreed that joining a stunt team is a major commitment. In addition to games -- and NBA teams can play as many as four a week -- cheerleaders attend practices and often make appearances at charity, business and community events.
But for Carpenter, the commitment is a no-brainer "We divide the squad so that you're off every third game," he said. "But if I have the night off, I go anyway. I'm just happy to sit courtside at the Nuggets."