They are there to welcome us as we enter Philips Arena, they greet us in the concourse, we see them on ice during time outs and fans are sent into a screaming frenzy at the thought of getting free Thrashers stuff from them during games. They are the ladies that make up the Atlanta Thrashers Blue Crew.
Donni Frazier is the coordinator for both the Blue Crew and the Hawks A-Town Dancers, and recently she invited me to spend some time with her and the Crew during one of their practice sessions at The Cooler in Alpharetta.
Donni grew up in Panama City, Florida and attended the University of Florida, graduating with a degree in telecommunications. Frazier worked for the athletic department at the University of Florida between 1996-2004. Then she was hired on by the A.S., L.L.C. and has been here ever since.
While we observed the proceedings from the bench, Donni explained to me just what they look for from a member of the Blue Crew when candidates come to audition for spots on the squad. They must have, “personality and charisma”, adding that they must also possess, “Good interactive skills, is smart as well as beautiful”.
Last June they finished up the audition for this coming season’s version on the Blue Crew and she described what the ladies went through to work their way onto the squad.
“It’s a week long process”, she said. “After registration and orientation, we then evaluate who can skate. They have boot camp that they go through, interviews, which they are all nervous about. Also this year they had a uniform try-on session where we actually viewed how they looked in their uniforms as well as a swimsuit portion of the auditions”.
Continuing, “They also go over certain drills like how they move the net, pick up pucks, pick up hats and they go through relays…and we do that all on the last day of auditions”.
“Then the girls do what we call an ‘improv session’ where we give them scenarios of things that could happen during a game and they have to act it out. That way we can see how they would react to certain things. So each contestant pulls a scenario out of a hat and see how they respond to it, we get to see their personalities, how they would handle themselves, and how they would go about the situation”.
Donni explained they are one of the faces of the franchise so, “we have to know if they knock over someone’s drink…what are you going to do, how are they going to fix that?”
At the end of auditions, 20 of the 40 ladies who auditioned made it onto the roster of the 2010-11 Atlanta Thrashers Blue Crew. Among those are on-ice captain Lissa and interactive captains Jami, Candace and Terri. Their leadership roles are to help make sure everyone is where they need to be and things run as they should.
“As captains, we just make sure that the game runs smoothly”, Candace told me while taking a break. “We make sure everyone knows where to be and what to do. Kind of make everything ’flow’”.
Jami explains, “Captains stay on top of the game, making sure that the girls get to their promotions on time and really help to make sure the fans have a good time at the game and feel welcome while they are there”.
Captains get to the arena before everyone else, help Donni get things ready for the game and get the towels and tee shirts to all the girls to distribute to the crowd.
Now that the Blue Crew roster is set, they are preparing for the upcoming season. And while I was with them, the veteran members of the Crew were showing the newer ones how to perform “ice maintenance drills”…the activity during time-outs where they clean the surface around the goals as well as remove snow from around the boards. Jami, Candace and Kirstie were performing the drill while Lissa was describing the activity to those who stood along the boards.
Timing is key here… something that Jami underscores by telling me that if they haven’t completed their duties during the allotted time, there could be consequences to face.
“It’s extremely important to be on time and on your game”, she explained. “There are three girls on each side of the ice and you have to make sure you do your job so that everyone else can do theirs. And you only have 90 seconds because when that red light goes off and the girls are still out there, there’s the possibility the team could get fined by the league…and that’s not good”.
Most of the time a minute and a half is more than enough, but it can get a tad complicated when there are certain obstacles or issues that come about during their time on the ice. But the ladies simply have to work through it.
“During that 90 seconds you have players that sitting along the boards just talking to their teammates or a goalie that just doesn’t like to move”, Jami said adding, “…but we’ve got a job to do and so we just have to work around them or yell at them to move. And sometimes there’s fights but the light still goes off and that 90 seconds starts then so we have to go, even if that means we can only do half of the pattern or just around the goal. It’s very important that area is nice and clean”.
Candace also pointed out that sometimes goalie superstitions and habits could also cause a delay saying, “There are some who are very superstitious and they do not want to leave their crease. So you’ll politely ask them to move, but they really want to stay there. So you just work around them”.
“There is one goalie”, Candace continued. “I can’t remember which one it was, but he wanted us to do things in a different pattern than what we do. He wanted us to go around the boards first, then do his crease because he’s very superstitious and wanted us to do it that particular way”.
Jami, who will be entering into her fifth year as a Blue Crew member, is a self-described “military brat” who was born into an Air Force Family while her father was stationed overseas. “I was born in Germany, live all over but we moved to Texas and then to Georgia where I’ve been for 11 years now…which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere”.
She was a cheerleader at Kennesaw State University where she studied Exercise and Health Science, something she uses in her daily life. “I use that now working with a special needs family…a young lady who I’m extremely close to and is very dear to my heart. I help her on a daily basis as a life coach as well as with fitness nutrition and regimens we do weekly and monthly”.
Jami added that she was just accepted into a radiology program in Hawkinsville, Georgia, “So I’m gonna be juggling my time between south Georgia and Atlanta”.
Candace grew up in McDonough, Georgia and now lives in Atlanta. And like Jami, she also will be entering into her fifth campaign with the Crew.
“I tried out for the Atlanta Hawks dance team five years ago and Donni after tryouts told me she was getting a team together for hockey, the Thrashers. I’ve always been a huge hockey fan so…five years, I’m still here”.
Candace said she really did not have that much ice skating experience when she tried out, but once on the team she picked it up really fast.
“Well, I’ve always been a roller blader, never really ice skated…it’s kinda similar, but just slippery. So it wasn’t hard at all for me to pick up ice skating”.
Candace is still in school, going to Georgia Perimeter College to become a dental hygienist. She works as an assistant hygienist at this time. Between working, going to school and the Blue Crew, Candace is also wedding planning. She and her fiancé will be wed in May of 2011.
While both ladies tell me working with the Crew is a lot of fun, the fact is that they have a lot that keeps them busy during game days…and there isn’t a lot of down time for Blue Crew members working that night.
“Before the game there is a meeting and pretty much all of the game operations people get together to make sure everyone is on the same page”, Jami explained. “After the meeting the captains and Donni will go over what will be happening during each time out, between periods, pre-game and post-game. And we all have duties after the game as well”.
“Yeah, we’re constantly going, going, going”, Candace added with a laugh and pumping her fists like a train locomotive.
One thing these ladies do is have a really good time together, whether at practice or at games. And they seem to have a certain closeness in their ranks. Donni calls the ladies she works with “a close knit” family as the ladies work hard for one another and the team. “All the girls are wonderful and are motivated to be there”.
Jami agrees saying, “They are an amazing group of girls and I come back every year. And this year I’m not even going to be in Atlanta. It’s a very special team and I take a lot of pride in representing Atlanta and the Atlanta Spirit”.
As for what Jami likes most about being on this squad she quickly spoke about the population of Thrasherville that she loves being with most, the younger fans.
“I really love kids, so I always like to talk to and meet new kids every game, especially the little girls who are always running up and wanting to get their pictures taken and getting stuff signed”.
“And I like to catch up with those fans who have been coming to games throughout the years. Philips Arena really has become like a home to me because of all the fans who I’ve gotten to know over the years”.
Then I asked Candace what was most fun about being a Blue Crew member.
“What is not fun about being a Blue Crew member?” she responded with a playful ‘well, duh’ tone. “You get to watch hockey, the girls are great. It’s just a blast. I love the fans, I love interacting with them, that’s my favorite part”.
As far as which part of the game she works, on the ice or in the stands, Candace says she really has no preference…it’s all fun. “I do both, though last year I was mostly on the ice. It depends on the game and who’s working that night”.
One other thing that Donni and the Crew are excited about this season is the advent of the Jr. Blue Crew. It will be for young girls who would like to assist the ladies of the Atlanta Thrashers Blue Crew during intermissions, promotions and crowd interaction. The program is designed to promote self-esteem and promote long-lasting friendships…and no ice skating experience is necessary.
“The Jr. Blue Crew will be for ages 7 to 12”, Donni informed me. “They’ll be able to come out and spend time with the Blue Crew, be at practice, help during intermission of games, walk around the concourse with the girls…it should be really fun”.
This is something that Jami is jazzed about as well. “I’ve actually gotten to talk to a few of the girls that are really excited about it. That is something new that I’m really looking forward to this next year because this program is growing and adding the Jr. Blue Crew is very exciting”.
For those interested in learning more about the Jr. Blue Crew, here’s a link to their website with all of the information.