It's a muggy evening at the George Mason University field house, and 35 young women in leotards and tights are warming up.
They're all wearing gold leotards with burgundy sashes. Their hair is big, their makeup major.
And not a one of them shows panty line.
When you're a Redskinette, underpants are discouraged.
Just one of many restrictions.
"The problem with wearing underpants with uniforms is that it shows through," explains Charlene Wheeless, 28, assistant director and spokeswoman for the Redskinettes. "It's not a very professional image or look. It's a fashion faux pas."
There are women on the squad, however, who for sanitary and medical reasons think something should come between them and their uniforms. (Indeed, those uniforms are lent to Redskinettes and can be passed on to different women the following year.)
Last year Wanda Evans, a 28-year-old physical therapist, wore high-cut briefs to a game, and was promptly benched from the squad. "Someone at the game told on me," says Evans, 28. "It wasn't even in the handbook."
Now it is.
The Redskinettes give their all. They arrange their schedules around an old-fashioned politically incorrect commitment to cheering on the guys -- a pledge that ties them up three nights a week all summer, two nights a week during football season, and an awful lot of Saturdays and Sundays. Last year they volunteered their services at more than 100 public appearances.
These days, there are working women on the squad: computer programmers, elementary school teachers, a bank manager, even a former Marine.
"It takes dedication and commitment," says Sheryl Olecheck, for three years the team's choreographer. "We are not an organization for girls looking for a husband."
Mostly, the women who join the Redskinettes are prepared to give up a lot because they get a great deal in return: prestige, an association with a great Washington institution, a terrific way to get exercise, and two tickets to each home game.
So why, after making it all the way to the Super Bowl, have only 19 members of last year's squad of 40 returned this season?
Why did some members of last year's squad raise accusations of tyrannical leadership, nepotism and favoritism against the Redskinettes' management last spring, repeating charges by other women two years ago?
Why do only five women from the current management's original squad remain?
And why did some women who made it through last season swear they'd never try out again?
Until three years ago, the Redskinettes were a more-or-less stable volunteer group of dancers and cheerleaders who appeared as part of the hoopla at home games. "The returnee rate was normally about 75 to 80 percent -- at one point, it was 90 percent," recalls Shiona Baum, a member of the squad from 1979 to 1987, and choreographer for four of those years.
Then in spring of 1989, Rosemary Foreman (a staff assistant in the Virginia office of then-Rep. Stan Parris) and her husband, Dave, took over the management of the squad. The Foremans' daughter Sheryl Olecheck, who had been a Redskinette since 1986, was appointed dance line choreographer and made one of four squad captains.
Although several longtime Redskinettes boycotted the spring tryouts and more than half the squad did not return the following year, control has remained within the Foreman family: Rosemary Foreman is director; Dave Foreman is business manager; Olecheck is head choreographer; and her husband, Arthur, a CPA, tallies scores during tryouts. Under their leadership, some former Redskinettes charge that joining the squad has been a commitment not unlike taking sacred vows -- complete with obedience to a higher power, mandatory sacrifices, and punishments for complaining or breaking the rules.
"Within any organization, you have to have rules and regulations," says Olecheck. "And we stress teamwork. We look for uniformity. It's not a place you can solo." The Rules Sounds logical enough -- it's a squad, a team. But what does that really mean? Ask the leadership, and it means synchronization on the field, a versatile and energetic squad, approved clothing, a code of conduct and a willingness to put the good of the Redskinettes before personal interests.
It means a certain kind of woman too, and the Foremans -- mother, father and daughter -- are pretty clear about who she is: "A woman who is beautiful both inside and out," says Rosemary Foreman. "A woman who reaches out to the community." Adds Olecheck, "The girl next door -- the babysitter or neighbor. And we look for the whole package. For dance talent. Physical attractiveness, intelligence and for women who will be a fine example to the community."
It also means a strict set of rules, both written and unwritten.
A handbook compiled by Rosemary Foreman, and revised last year, spells out many of the rules, accompanied at times with no-nonsense reminders of who makes them. (As in: "Your director ... has the ultimate authority governing all decisions and actions of the group." Or: "Counterproductive and distracting conduct and attitude will be reported to the director and in the interest of the entire squad, appropriate action will be taken." Or: "Appearing in public with no make-up and stringy hair while wearing your Redskinette jacket or necklace is inappropriate.")
There are also relatively benign rules with respect to uniforms, behavior, personal appearances, practice sessions and dating Redskins, which is absolutely forbidden. (While wearing any clothing that identifies the squad members as Redskinettes, the women are prohibited from using profanity, smoking, chewing gum, drinking alcohol or using drugs.)
What's trickier are the regulations about physical appearance.
For example: Makeup "must be applied heavily enough to be seen from afar, yet smooth enough to avoid the hard, unattractive 'made-up' look at close distance." Squad members are expected to devote the same care to their hair -- which cannot be changed without the approval of the director -- and makeup at practice sessions as they do during games. No matter how much they sweat.
"We're photographed a lot," says Rosemary Foreman, explaining that makeup must be emphasized to be seen by the crowds. "A little more make-up, a little more poufing of the hair -- a lot of girls don't realize how beautiful they can be."
Until this year the Foremans brought in professional hairdressers and makeup artists to guide the Redskinettes. "You don't want to look pretty and natural," says hairdresser Robin Weir, whose staff conducted the lessons two years ago. "It's got to look good on television. So they can't look like runway models -- they've got to look like yippee-i-yo-ky-ay."
One way of achieving that is through the much-touted (by the squad's management) hair weaves, an expensive, time-consuming process that makes the hair fuller. "Let's say your hair is five inches long, and you need more of it -- you can't have any little head looks," says Weir. "We take five pieces of your hair and add 10 to it, so it becomes 15. We individually fuse them to your hair."
Weight is also a major issue. Until last year, an out-of-date chart was included in the handbook. For example, on that chart, a 5-foot-7 woman could acceptably range from 109 to 141, depending on her body frame. "I am out of that range from birth," says 5-7 1/2 Evans, who was occasionally asked to supervise the weekly weigh-ins. "Women were so anxious about weigh-ins, they would take off everything except their leotard -- belt, shoes, socks, rings," she says.
This year the revised handbook states that at the beginning of training camp, women will be assigned a weight that they must maintain except for a three-pound fluctuation for menstrual bloating. Any gain over five pounds will result in a written warning; with a second warning, the Redskinette will be benched.
The handbook also spells out which articles of clothing each member must wear and is provided (the basic uniform, including the warm-up suit, the rain gear, the sweater, the pompoms) and which they are expected to purchase (the mandatory practice leotards, T-shirts, shorts and sweatshirts).
Then there are the unstated rules, the ones that have to do with homogeneity. With fitting in. And with women of different ages, races and social backgrounds, those rules can get very touchy.
Wanda Evans and Kathy Craft, two black women on last year's team, for example, say they were urged by Wheeless, one of the black captains, to assimilate. To wear hair extensions.
Wheeless is appalled at the charge, and does not remember whether she used the word "assimilate" to either woman. (Last year there were six black women -- two of them captains -- and there are nine this year.) "If they are suggesting that I recommend that they become part of the team and integrate themselves into the organization, then yes, that's what I would tell any new member," she says. "As far as integrating yourself to the point of denying who you are and what you believe in, then no, that was not my intention." Fair Play? Unpredictable. Dictatorial. That's the picture of the management painted by the disaffected former Redskinettes. Some of the women who have left the squad talk of yelling and screaming, irrational benching, favoritism in selecting people for paid appearances, threats of being removed from the squad because of a system that requires yearly tryouts.
"It's the worst thing I've ever been through in relation to the way you're treated, and the way you feel," says Evans. "I've never felt this way in my life. Never. ... They never let you forget there are 400 girls waiting to take your place."
Susan Enlind, who is still on the squad and who perfected her skills by watching videos of her routines, defends the practice. "You are humiliated in front of other people at times," she says. "And if you keep messing up, at times they will make examples of you. It usually works."
Rosemary Foreman is concerned about these charges, but says, "I have heard that about Sheryl, but I didn't talk to her about it because I didn't think it warranted it. ... Does Sheryl yell and scream and rant and rave? No. Does she criticize people. Yes, of course she does. ... Does she have favorites? I really do not think that that is so."
But can she be objective about her daughter's leadership? "I chose Sheryl as choreographer because she's the best for the job," she says. "I felt fortunate to do the job and to have my husband as business manager. What easier way to handle the business? I don't call that nepotism."
It is made clear to Redskinettes from the start that breaking the rules can lead not only to punishment but to dismissal. "You see to it that women don't come in with blinders on," says Olecheck.
But some charge that they never expected the rules to be applied differently to different people. "I know that in the beginning, everyone was pretty much equal," says Pam Hinkel, who was not part of the breakaway group last year, but who decided not to return. "But then you just get the feeling of people they like and people they don't like, and you better be one of those people. I thought this was a team, but it's cliques like high school."
Craft, a special assistant to the president of the American Postal Workers Union, says she was repeatedly singled out by management. Over whether she would be allowed to cheer. Over her attitude. Over whether she was wearing panties.
Enlind, then a friend of Craft's, says Craft had trouble with the routines and therefore some of the criticism was legitimate. "She took that stuff really hard," says Enlind. "You run into that a lot -- especially with people who come in here confident. She was built up in every other way in her life except this. But if she'd practiced more, she wouldn't have made the mistakes."
Craft, 27, interprets her treatment differently. "I don't think they're used to intelligent women," she says. "The women on that squad are young, immature. They are impressed by being a cheerleader; I'm not one of those women."
Another aspect of management that some squad members question is how money and tickets are handled. Although the entire operation is volunteer, some money does change hands. There is a $60 fee for the clinic preceding tryouts (the clinic is not required, but tryout routines are taught during it). The identifying clothing -- such as Redskinette jackets, tote bags, T-shirts -- that is not required but is often needed, is purchased by the women through the Foremans. The Foremans also decide who performs at paid public appearances, for which, according to Dave Foreman, each woman earns $30 per hour. Another $30 goes into the Redskinette coffers. Dave Foreman estimates that about 120 appearances were charity and 45 were paid last year.
The Foremans defend the arrangements, explaining that organizational costs are covered by money from the clinics and the paid appearances. They point out that with so many women working these days, many Redskinettes are not available for daytime appearances, and that they give priority to the squad's dance team. (Rosemary Foreman's time, which she estimates at about six hours a day at this time of year and 40 hours a week during the spring tryout season, is entirely volunteer.) Only a small percentage of the clothing prices -- about $5 per jacket, for example -- goes to the Redskinettes for costs and overhead. "I lose on it," says Dave Foreman.
The Foremans receive and dispense 80 tickets from the Redskins -- two for each squad member -- per home game. Alternates or women who have been benched get only a single ticket each; the leftovers are given to charities and family members of performing Redskinettes, say Dave Foreman.
"The other girls feel it wouldn't be fair for the girls who don't perform to get both tickets," he says.
In any case, there is bitterness about these issues, particularly because of the costs incurred in being a Redskinette, such as the extra clothing, the food that Redskinettes take turns bringing to the games, and gifts for "squad buddies."
The biggest problem, some Redskinettes say, is that voicing dissent brings down the wrath of the management. "They told us at the beginning, 'If you say something, we will hear about it,' " says Kathy Craft. "And they have their tactics, their little spies."
Rosemary Foreman sees it differently. "I don't have that kind of attitude on my squad. I don't see a problem." She does say, however, that "some things could go on that I might not know about."
Adds Olecheck: "Every organization has one or two people that are not happy with it. ... This is a volunteer organization. You have the right to leave at any time."
Dulles -- and After And leave they did -- right after Super Bowl weekend, 1991.
That's when the charged atmosphere erupted after Redskinette Gina Krytusa was screamed at by the Foremans at Dulles Airport for talking to her husband.
He had come there to tell her that her stepmother had been shot and was in critical condition. Krytusa recalls Rosemary Foreman shouting at her in front of a large group of people, Dave Foreman grabbing her left arm and reminding her of the prohibition against husbands or boyfriends seeing them off, and many of the Redskinettes being afraid to sit with her because of all the commotion. "I was shaken," says Krytusa. "I was appalled. I am appalled."
Rosemary Foreman remembers the incident somewhat differently. "It was not pleasant for either of us," she says. She recalls that as the group was called together to depart, Krytusa and another Redskinette were missing. When they were spotted, Foreman says her husband called out twice, "Come on girls, we've got to go," and then reprimanded them for meeting family members.
"At that point, Gina proceeded to say that her husband had come to tell her a member of her family had been shot," says Foreman. "I said, 'I will put you in a cab to go home.' She did not want to do that. I said, 'Okay, I'll stay until you get things sorted out, and we'll both take a later plane.' She did want to do that. That was the end of it. ... But yes, she was upset, and yes, I was most definitely upset because I couldn't find them."
In the aftermath of the airport incident, seven Redskinettes signed a letter to the football team's executive vice president, John Kent Cooke, explaining that they had decided to resign after only one year on the squad. Their problem: the Foremans and their daughter Sheryl.
"They lack the ability to treat the women with respect, dignity and simple courtesy," said the letter. "They choose, instead, to run the squad with intimidation and harassment. The Redskinettes are generally treated with disdain, verbally and emotionally abused at practices, games and public appearances."
Cooke met with two of the women who signed the letter, Kathy Craft and Carla Taylor, and then met with Rosemary Foreman and Olecheck. He decided to retain Foreman, but appointed Wheeless as acting director supervising all practice sessions, (Olecheck, however, supervised the recent GMU practice) to set up a liaison with the Redskins' staff, and to establish grievance procedures.
Nineteen Redskinettes out of 40 elected to try out again this year. Like elementary school teacher Jenni Coakley. "With anything you do, you can't please everybody. In my eyes we were always treated fairly."
Susan Enlind also decided to stay. "It's like the military," she says. "You have to fit in. But nobody's forcing you to do it. ... And unless you do it, it's almost impossible to describe. It's a major feeling of pride and accomplishment. But you have to accept in the beginning that you're going to do this 100 percent."
Pam Hinkel, a Redskinette who had gotten along with the squad management all year, didn't return. "All year, my fiance said, 'You don't have to put up with that.' But I said, 'No, I'm going to make this work.' But at the airport I thought, 'This isn't worth it.'
"I miss it now," she continues. "I miss not being a part of it. I had big aspirations for this."