By Mark E. Vogler
METHUEN — Methuen High School senior Rebecca Lucas figured it would be "a pretty good workout," when she competed this spring with more than 300 women for a chance to be a New England Patriots cheerleader.
"No way," the 18-year-old soon-to-be-graduate said last week, recalling how poor she thought her chances were to get one of the 24 available spots.
"I had no chance of making the team, because I didn't have any dancing experience like most of the girls," she said. "I never seriously thought about being a Patriots cheerleader. I just thought trying out for the squad would be something fun."
Lucas, who even was competing against 10 veteran Pats cheerleaders, surprised herself by making the first two cuts. First she was among 56 survivors. That field was narrowed to 32, Lucas still among them. Then she managed to last through a grueling two-week practice session before the final cuts were made.
She was flabbergasted to make it.
"I was just having a good time, and really didn't worry about it," said Lucas, who has been a cheerleader at Methuen High for four years — the last two as captain of the football and basketball squads.
"When I found out I had made the team, I was so excited I was jumping up and down. What a surprise," she said.
Lucas, an honor roll student at Methuen High, has competed in All-Star Cheerleading for a decade with Celebrity Cheer out of Salem, N.H. She has never been to a Patriots game, though watches them a lot on television at home with her proud father, Mark.
What was the toughest part of the Patriots tryouts?
"During the first couple of practices, the kicks. Getting prepared for the high kicks. That's probably the hardest workout I'll ever do. It takes about 20 minutes. First you do eight sets of eight, then seven sets of eight, all the way down to one set of eight.
"They also had us running up and down the ramps of Gillette Stadium for about a half hour. That's quite a workout, too."
What's the most satisfying and worthwhile part of being a Patriots cheerleader?
"All the trips you get to go on. A lot of the girls got to go to Turkey, Germany and overseas to visit the troops. You get to go to veterans hospitals around Thanksgiving. We're required to do 15 charity events and do corporate events. There are so many things to be grateful for with this job."
What's been the best part for you so far?
"I made two really great friends. One is a month older and one is a year older than me. One is from Foxboro (where Gillette Stadium is located) and the other is from Braintree. I think I've made new friends that will probably last me for the rest of my life."
So, to you, what's the epitome of being a New England Patriots cheerleader?
"It's considered a part-time job, but it's a big time commitment. It's probably 40 hours a week. Almost the whole team gets together an hour early to practice before the practice. Sometimes you have three promotional events a week. A few hours a day, sometimes all day. You need to be in shape. You need to be fit. You have to be a very good dancer and study a lot of different routines. Two practices ago, we learned five dances and two cheers. You are like an ambassador for the team. And once you make the team, you can be on it for three years. But there's no slacking. You have to try out again the next year. None of our 10 returning veterans got cut this year."
"It's very competitive, girls 18 to high 30s trying out. Most are definitely dancers. One girl tried out five times. A bunch of the girls tried out more than once."
Is it all physical work, or do you have some cerebral stuff?
"There's a lot of learning with the routines. We also had a five-page football exam that you have to pass to stay on the team. You have to know every team, in every division, in every conference. You have to know about the play-offs and how you make it to the Super Bowl. How many stadium seats, how many suites and things like that."
What's the most interesting part of the job?
"The fan mail we get. People we never hear from. You feel like a celebrity. I got a letter from a guy from England who is a big Patriots fan ... after they posted my profile on the Web site.
"When you're at promotional events, there are lines of people wanting your autograph or a picture."
What are the most unusual aspects of the job?
"When you're at promotional events and your family comes, you can't hug them. There is a good reason, because other people don't know they're your family and might expect the same treatment."
What sort of advice do they give you about how you approach the job?
"If you have jealous boyfriends or dads, you need to have a sit-down talk with them to explain about your job that there are some things they may not like.
How much interaction to you have with the Patriots players?
"There's no contact at all with the players. No fraternizing. If you do, you get booted. Fired. If they approach you, you're supposed to report it to the cheerleading coach.
So, who is your favorite player?
"Tom Brady, of course."
Does the school know about your being named at cheerleader?
"They know. I told my best friend, Amanda. At the junior prom, she said, 'Look at my best friend. She's a Patriots cheerleader.' So the word has gotten around."