BY RICH PALZEWIC
The Green Bay Packers once had professional cheerleaders, but that ended in 1986 when the team announced they would be discontinuing the Green Bay Sideliners.
Dating back to 1931, the team was one of the first professional football teams to have cheerleaders when they used Green Bay East and West High School squads for multiple games.
A later version of the cheerleaders was first known as the Packerettes, who were active in the 1950s when the team played at City Stadium.
In 1961 their name was changed to the Golden Girls – one of their claims to fame was cheering at the 1967 Ice Bowl in 46 below-zero-wind-chill weather.
In 1973 they changed their name back to the Packerettes until 1977 – that’s when they became known as the Sideliners. Now Green Bay uses cheerleaders from UWGB and St. Norbert College at every home game.
Cheryl Zablocki-Long was a cheerleader for the team when they were known as the Sideliners back in the late 70s and early 80s.
A 1979 Pulaski, Wisconsin, high-school graduate, Cheryl has fond memories of her three years cheering for the Packers.
“I was a cheerleader at Pulaski High School all four years,” said a smiling Long, who is now a dental hygienist in the Green Bay area. “Previous to that when I was younger, I did dance for Shirley Van, who became the choreographer for the Sideliners. When Shirley took over, she held a tryout in the WBAY auditorium looking for cheerleaders for the team – there were over 200 girls trying out for a position. There were three tryouts and I was so happy to make the team. I had to stop cheering at Pulaski because it interfered too much.”
Cheryl noted that about 32 girls made the roster and everyone had to maintain a certain weight, otherwise they couldn’t cheer. Cheryl remembers if you were five feet tall, you could only weigh 100 pounds. For every inch after, you could weigh another five pounds.
“On top of all that, we had to take off ten percent of that because Shirley said being on TV added weight,” said Long. “She wanted us to be on the thinner side … we had to weigh in before every practice. It was very strict back then!”
Cheryl’s dance background of tap, ballet, jazz and pom-poms with Van definitely helped her become a Pulaski high school and Packer cheerleader.
“I was pretty scared my first year but also very excited,” she said. “At that time, I loved being in front of the crowd and smiling. It was kind of like, ‘Wow, you’re a cheerleader for the Green Bay Packers?’ It was a cool thing.”
The Sideliners did the Milwaukee games as well, traveling to County Stadium via bus in their hair rollers. They would eat doughnuts (ironically), hard-boiled eggs and fruit for breakfast on the way down, and had to change inside the stadium.
“We would spend hours practicing and had to learn approximately 32 new songs for each game cheering and dancing along with the Packers band,” Long said. “We always had a lot of fun.”
The cheerleaders would get paid $10 to $15 per game depending on the location and would have a nice dinner with the girls on the way home from Milwaukee games.
“Of course we didn’t get paid much back then but it was more about being a Packers cheerleader and the prestige that came with it,” said Cheryl, who doesn’t recall ever doing preseason games. “Because I was a cheerleader for the team – even though we didn’t make much money doing it – it led to other things like modeling and promotions.”
It led to Cheryl being chosen to do a Playboy NFL cheerleader photo shoot.
“I remember the Playboy photographer from Chicago who did the photo shoot,” she said. “My parents had to sign (a waiver) because I was underage. I was the youngest member chosen to do the shoot. They would just pose you how you wanted. My relatives had a ranch, so I remember going there and posing with the horses. They wanted to photograph you doing a hobby you enjoyed.”
One of Cheryl’s greatest memories of her three years cheering for the team didn’t even happen at a game but in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders competition in June of 1980. It was during her second year with the team and she competed against her teammates to see who would represent the Packers.
“I went with another cheerleader and Shirley (Van) of course,” noted Long. “We competed in events like the football toss, kayaking, roller skating, motocross and tandem-bike riding. All the teams were represented at the competition except for the Dallas Cowboys’ cheerleaders. The Philadelphia Eagles’ coach pulled their two girls after they crashed in the bike competition. The stopper on my roller skate fell off and I had fallen … a photographer took pictures of me and my skinned-up knee. The pictures were used in a promotional magazine. I also remember in the motocross biking that whoever had the green bike would win because that was the fastest bike!”
The paper had said the girls got third, but Cheryl claims they actually got second in the competition.
“We won the kayak because we would go out on the Fox River and practice,” she said. “I couldn’t throw a football at all, so I had to really practice some of that stuff. I wanted to go so bad. First place prize was a Volkswagen Beetle for each cheerleader! We received some money for coming in second and some athletic clothing. I had so much fun and met so many new cheerleaders from other teams.”
As for the cheering on game days, Cheryl said most of the people in the crowd were very cordial and nice. Some even asked for their autographs and pictures!
We knew some of the players such as Paul Coffman, Mike Douglass, Rich Wingo, James Lofton and David Whitehurst. Recently, Paul Coffman met up with fellow alumni cheerleaders at their annual cheerleader reunion.
So, why would a cheerleader back then put up with the low pay, hours spent practicing and strict weight requirements?
“It was due to the fact that I was a huge Packer fan and loved every minute of it” said Long. “I really enjoyed my time cheerleading, but eventually after three years I was ready to move on.”
The girls recently formed a Green Bay Packers Cheerleader Alumni Association through Facebook so they are now able to keep in touch. They welcome former cheerleaders to contact them and join.
“As always, GO PACK GO,” Long reiterated. “I love our green and gold Packers!”