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Fairy tale ending for Packers volunteer cheerleaders

January 24, 1997

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) _ The Green Bay Packers’ volunteer cheerleaders thought they were going to be left out of the big ball. Then their fairy godmothers _ rabidly loyal Packer fans _ got them an invitation and a charter flight to New Orleans.

``I never thought I was going to the Super Bowl. Really. It is a chance of a lifetime,″ Cindy Kochanski, 18, said Thursday as the squad began its trip. ``The Packers haven’t gone for 29 years. Who knows when they are going to go again?″

The cheerleaders _ actually the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay squad _ aren’t paid for cheering on Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, which is often frozen.

``We are a college squad. We are not professionals,″ 19-year-old Cathy Grabowski said. ``We do this for fun.″

The 13-member squad, which includes some men, is seldom seen on television and not even listed in the Packers’ programs. It usually doesn’t travel to road games but had hoped that the Super Bowl would be an exception.

But when the Packers earned a spot in the championship game, the squad heard nothing. To make matters worse, the company producing the halftime show hired high school dancers from the Green Bay area to play the Packers cheerleaders.

``We were a little disappointed initially. But we certainly understood,″ coach Ann Rodrian said.

The students said they felt like Cinderellas kept home from the ball.

``I always hoped that they would ask us,″ Ms. Kochanski said. ``But it wasn’t like a guarantee we would go to it.″

The National Football League had said the squad would be left out because they were not affiliated with the league. But then came the news stories and the angry reaction from Packer fans, so NFL officials found a way to get the cheerleaders into the game.

The students will get their chance to tumble and flip on the carpet of the climate-controlled New Orleans Superdome on Sunday, when the Packers play the New England Patriots in front of a national TV audience of about 140 million people, and millions of others worldwide.

The squad had planned a 20-hour bus trip to New Orleans, but fans donated seats on a charter flight that arrived Thursday night. The cheerleaders were sent off with $500 from students at a middle school named after Packers coaching great Vince Lombardi.

Like the working-class city they represent, the Green Bay cheerleaders are more low-key than the rest of the NFL’s squads. The team wears traditional outfits, with no exposed navels or high-cut shorts.

``We don’t have the sex appeal,″ Robert Ponce said. ``We are not a dance squad.″

The Packers didn’t even have cheerleaders in 1968, the last time they played in a Super Bowl. Five years ago, the team asked the school to supply cheerleaders for home games.

In return, the team makes a donation to the squad’s travel fund for UW-Green Bay teams’ away games.

While in New Orleans, the cheerleaders will miss the school’s basketball game Saturday night.

Did they leave their team in the lurch? Not a chance.

They lined up the squad from Green Bay Southwest High School to take their place.

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