WEST LOOP — I auditioned for the Chicago Blackhawks Ice Crew. I got cut after the first round.
In my defense, there were more than 90 girls who showed up at the audition — most of whom were not complete train wrecks — and the team cut more than two-thirds of us.
The audition comes in three parts: a skating round, an in-person interview and a final audition that combines the first two. Veteran Ice Crew cheerleaders do not have to re-audition, which means that in any given year there could be only one open spot or as many as 16 (or more if the team decides to expand the squad).
Rumor had it only two girls were leaving the squad after the last Stanley Cup-winning season. One was getting married and another was off to dentistry school.
With a rumored two spots open, I would say I was hopeful but realistic. I skated for 12 years growing up, I was the captain of my high school cheerleading squad, and I have the confidence of a 26-year-old who has jumped out of a plane, swam with great white sharks, and attended an Ivy League graduate school.
But still, there were a lot of energetic 21-year-olds with tight bodies, tiny shorts and strong skating skills vying for the $50-per-game job. I did not — by any means — stand out.
I saw the audition as I see most things: as a good story.
So here’s that story, starting with the pre-audition clinic I went to last week. The coaches/judges tell you over and over again, “It’s about skating competency. Can you skate fast from one side of the rink to the other and stop securely?”
That turned out to be easier said than done for some girls.
During one drill, we had to sprint skate to the end of the rink, practice that secure stop and skate back. One girl — who very clearly hadn’t taken many laps around the rink — looked particularly fearful making her way across the ice. As she approached the group, her eyes widened, her knees shook, and it was obvious that secure stop was not happening. She slammed full speed into a hockey goal — a self-inflicted clothesline. Her legs flew up, and she landed directly on her back. As the other girls swarmed, she deadpanned, “Well, I’m not going to make it.”
No — no, you are not. But good for you for trying.
Fast forward to the locker room after the clinic, when all the girls were taking off their skates and chitchatting.
One girl, who made it to the final round of the audition last year, was indulging the inquisitors about the in-person interview. She said it went as expected. She was asked why she wanted to be on the Ice Crew and what she knew about the Hawks.
Then came the zinger: If you could only bring three things onto a deserted island, what would you bring? She laughed, “I think all mine were food.”
We all chuckled, nodding in agreement. One girl quipped, “Is it bad to say I’d want to bring a bottle of booze and my boyfriend?”
Since you had to ask — yes. Yes, it would be bad to say.
During the wrapup session, we got to ask our coach-for-the-day questions about the audition process. Among other tips, the coach encouraged us to get spray-tanned (nobody likes a pasty-white midriff!), wear our hair in “big curls,” and not wear Blackhawks red because, well, “that’s just boring.”
Then, she explained a strategy for audition day: “Your number, your order will be based on when you walk in the door. So, if I were you, I wouldn't’ go behind the girl with pink hair, because everyone is going to remember the girl with pink hair.”
To emphasize the point, the coach grabbed the girl next me, “If you’re a beautiful blonde” — she looks around, zeroing in on another “beautiful blonde” a couple rows back, pulling her to a spot directly in front of me — “don’t stand right next to another beautiful blonde.”
The “beautiful blonde” in front of me was also tall, eclipsing me. I inched back, bumping into the row of girls behind me.
Oh, the I-don’t-fit-in-here metaphors!
Fast forward again, to the end of audition day, the moment we were all waiting for, the posting of the list. The coach/judge came down the stairs at Johnny’s Ice House with a massive white poster board in tow. She turned it around, and written in big black marker, were 20-something numbers.
The numbers of the chosen ones.
I scanned back and forth, up and down for number 67, and was almost instantly overcome by the shock and sting of rejection. I followed the herd of disappointed girls making their way down the stairs, out the door, and back into the world where booty shorts and crop tops are not seen as acceptable Thursday afternoon apparel.
As I walked down Madison Street, I momentarily reverted back to my 17-year-old self. I could hear my high school principal read off the names of the five girls who were voted onto Homecoming court over the loudspeaker. My best friend — who was later (deservedly!) voted Homecoming queen — was called.
I was not.
It hurt like hell.
Luckily, this Ice Crew audition was not Homecoming court. I’m older and a bit wiser. Nearly a decade later, I’ve been toughened up by enough rejection and buoyed by enough success to find myself on a pretty even keel.
Two blocks from the rink, still throwing a mini-pity party for myself, a car pulled up with three young men inside. The guy in the passenger’s seat leaned out the window, looked me up and down and said, “Oh mah gawwwwd. Damn.”
I laughed. And with that, I filed my professional sport’s cheerleading tryout under “funny stories to tell.”