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Calendar girls

Patriots cheerleaders give it their best shots -- on the beach

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic -- Alyssa had to fly home early for her graduation from Northeastern University, where she earned a degree in mechanical engineering. Ando missed her mother and called her twice a day. Dinna speaks three languages and can get by in two more. Lindsay graduates from Boston College soon and will start graduate work at Boston University. Sandra brought her laptop and finished a paper on poetic elegy for a class at Babson College . Stacey went to Iraq and Afghanistan to perform for the troops over Thanksgiving, mortars ringing in her ears. Julie holds down four jobs.

Meet some of the New England Patriots Cheerleaders who spent last week in a tropical resort to shoot their 2008 swimsuit calendar. Though the photo s of the 24 women -- the calendar is two-sided -- are provocative, the women themselves are more Gilmore Girls than Girls Gone Wild. Many still see their pediatricians. They go to one another's shoots, and hug after. They giggle, a lot.

They range in age from 18 (Lindsey Barrows graduates from Winchendon High School in June) to 27 (Stacey McIntyre, a dance teacher, is getting married to a guy she met in Japan while on tour). Barrows is a rookie, along with 10 others who made the team three weeks ago. McIntyre is a veteran and must retire at the end of next season; each cheerleader is allowed a three-year stint. The average age is 21, and most are either in college or have graduated.

They're athletic, not anorexic; sturdy, not skinny like fashion models. They like to eat. (After her early morning shoot, Meghan Vasconcellos announced that she was going to "go grab salt and vinegar chips, a piece of French toast , and a big piece of chocolate cake"). Most were cheerleaders or on the dance team in high school and college. They don't do stunts; they're a kick-line team like the Rockettes. They earn an hourly wage, though they're not allowed to say how much it is.

They practice t wo evenings a week and six hours on Saturday . On game days, they arrive at Gillette Stadium five hours before kickoff. They don't attend away games. But they do plenty of corporate and charity events, an average of 42 per cheerleader last year, including visits to US troops in Germany, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Japan, South Korea, and Hawaii. Flying into danger zones, they donned 30-pound armored vests and helmets.

Herein, a brief account of life on the shoot: scantily clad women surrounded by palm trees and ogling fans.

The shoot
Each shot took place on the grounds of the Majestic Colonial hotel, an upscale resort. It is the third such calendar shoot for Jim Stouffer, a photographer from Ohio, who expertly coaches the women through their shots. "Bring your chin down just a little. Hold it right there. Tighten the abs. Now give me the sexy eyes. Show me a little teeth. There it is. More rear end. Good! Excellent! Can you switch your right hand? Give me a little more left hip. Push 'em together, Courtney." He isn't referring to her hands.

Tracy Sormanti, the cheerleader director, is on hand to rearrange hair, blot sweat from the face, spray a little olive oil on the body -- and make sure nothing too naughty is showing. This isn't Playboy.

"It gives their skin a beautiful glow," she says, as she lightly sprays oil on Corie Mae Callaluca, a 19-year-old rookie from Westford who attends Southern New Hampshire University.

The cheerleader mom
No one knows more about the cheerleaders than Sormanti, who has been with the organization for nearly 20 years, five of them as a cheerleader herself. Her title is cheerleader director and choreographer. But she's also the mother substitute, making sure the young women stay in line -- literally and figuratively.

Sormanti, 44, commutes more than an hour from her Connecticut home to Gillette Stadium, where the squad has its own field house. Single, she works seven days a week with some Sundays free during the off-season. During summer the team also holds weekend camps at Gillette for young, aspiring cheerleaders.

Of the 32 NFL teams, only seven are without cheerleaders. Sormanti says they serve a dual purpose: to stir up the fans and to serve as the Patriots' good will ambassadors. The swimsuit calendar, she acknowledges, is "very edgy." This year, they'll print 15,000 and sell them for $20 each; they always sell out.

But isn't the concept a bit retro? An anti-feminist paean to cheesecake?

"We do hear that a lot," Sormanti says. "I think it's important for people to realize that we have different markets. This is something for the male market. It's sex appeal and sizzle, and we acknowledge it. They don't pose like this at the games, and if you saw them at junior cheerleading camp you'd say, 'Those aren't the same girls.' The calendar sells, and it's fun. It's about exposure," she says, without irony.

There's a strict no-fraternization policy: The cheerleaders see the players only from the sidelines. "There's a big illusion that there's a big frat party going on, but there's not," says Sormanti.

The fans
Although some fans came down with the cheerleaders on a charter flight as part of a package deal, most of the people from New England who were at the resort last week had no idea what was going on -- until gorgeous women in bikinis, trailed by cameramen, kept popping up: on the beach, at the pool, in the shops.

The cheerleaders were happy to oblige everyone who asked for a photo or autograph. Jack Cloonan of Roslindale was on the beach with his girlfriend, Lisa Cormier of Waltham. "We saw them as soon as we walked into the airport," she says.

"They're kind of hard to miss," he adds.

Nor did Brian and Elena Mills of West Bridgewater know they were on the same flight as the women, until they boarded. Brian had a couple of photos taken with cheerleaders and spoke with some of them during the week. "When I talk to them, I look them right in the eye," he says. "That keeps me on the safe side."

Robby Trottier , the cheerleaders agree, is their extreme fan. He's 23, from New Hampshire, and has attended several of their promotional events. He signed up for the trip. "It's a lot more expensive than I thought it would be," he says. "But it's worth every penny of it, and it's only the third day." He showed up for all 24 shoots, including those at dawn, and at all the other activities such as beach and pool volleyball and the show the women put on for hotel guests. By midweek, he reckoned he'd taken at least 1,000 photos; he'd brought his laptop to download them and two extra memory sticks for his camera.

Then there were the football players. Not the Pats -- the Packers. Dave Rayner is a kicker for Green Bay, and Noah Herron is a running back. They met some of the cheerleaders when they visited troops aboard the USS Harry Truman in Miami over Super Bowl weekend. The Packers have no cheerleaders. "Green Bay is really traditional," says Rayner.

The players seemed sweet and showed up at many of the events. "The security guy won't let us follow them around," Rayner says, laughing.

The crew
That would be Mark Briggs , who spent 16 years in the British military, and is head of security for both the football team and the cheerleaders. He was there with his wife, Mary Ruth , who works in ticket sales for the Pats. "They're very secure here," he says. "This is a great environment for them." Though he stayed out of direct sight a lot, he seemed to know exactly where the women were at all times.

Dr. John Meola Jr. is the team dentist and a judge for cheerleader tryouts. A week earlier he had "power bleached" the women's teeth and then made touch-up whitener trays. "So they all have the same whiteness when they smile," he says. Indeed, they all seem to have glow-in-the-dark teeth.

Room 2215 was the nerve center of the shoot: That's where makeup artist Amy DePerrior and hairstylist Joanna Makowski worked their wonders, DePerrior with an arsenal of eye shadows, liners, mascara, foundation, powders, blushes, and lipstick; Makowski with a battery of brushes, combs, hairspray, mousses, gels, hairdryers, curlers, flat-irons, and shears. Each cheerleader got at least an hour session before their shoot, which transformed them from a pretty girl-next-door to a pin-up model. DePerrior had packed so much makeup, 53 pounds' worth, that she busted a zipper on her suitcase.

Then there was Ralph Solano , the activities director for the Majestic Colonial, who helped set up many of the cheerleader activities, including beach games and their dance show. Standing on the beach, he surveyed the women. "Ooh la la," he says. "The hotel has never been so beautiful."

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