If a fan of the National Football League and aware of Seattle’s love of their Seahawks, you might already know the routine:
They camp out in stadium parking lots the night before.
On game days, they pack the stadium, CenturyLink Field, 72,000 bodies, at an average single-ticket price of $265.
Game time, it’s mayhem, especially on the ears, with deafening crowd noise (they measure the decibels), in a Sunday afternoon rite that has earned Seahawks fans the title of “12th Player,” evidenced by homes all over Seattle that fly their own navy, gray and lime-green flags with a “12” in the middle.
“In Seattle,” says Jessica Scharf, “everyone lives, schedules and wardrobes around the Seahawks.”
Yes, later this year, there will be a new element at Seahawks games, too.
First cheering as a sixth grader for the Bloomington Knockers, then at Bloomington Central Catholic High School, then on the dance team at Illinois Wesleyan University, then — after training at local studios like Twin Cities Dance and Stacey’s Dance Factory — cheering for the Bloomington Extreme/Edge and Flex semi-pro teams, Jessica is now 26 years old and living in Seattle.
And she has landed a spot on the “Sea Gals,” the cheerleading/dance squad of the Seahawks that also appears year-round at endless civic events.
She emerged from a group that began with more than 5,000 applicants, in a field winnowed first by resumé and then invitation to a tryout. That's when there are open auditions, then, if successful, semi-final tryouts, then finally the finals, before a panel of judges that includes dance experts, choreographers, Seahawks players.
In Seattle, becoming a Sea Gal is just slightly less grueling than, say, becoming mayor.
“When I heard the judges say `No. 28,’” says Jessica, “I did a double-take at the tag on my shorts. No. 28? I’m No. 28! It took me about five seconds to process they were calling my number …”
It’s a nice success story.
Like many others, Jessica’s is one of determination, drive, desire, training, more training, overcoming defeat (she tried out but failed in 2016) and finally accomplishment — sort of a 2017 version of “Rocky" but with pom-poms and a glittery outfit.
In Jessica’s case, it was one thing more, too.
On the night of the finals, after finishing off the dance portions, in a rite similar to “Miss America,” finalists were called up, one-by-one, and asked a question to judge their poise — “If you could spend the day with anyone, living or otherwise, who would it be?”
One-by-one they answered — relatives, friends and inspirational figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln.
Then Jessica stepped up.
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“I’d love to speak with Andy Butler,” she said.
In Seattle, no one knew Andy Butler. But soon they did, as Jessica’s voice began to slightly crack.
“I wish,” she said, “I could have just one more conversation, just to thank him ...”
A Sprint Corp. national account manager, at age 40, he was one of the seven men killed in a plane crash into a fog-enshrouded farm field near the airport back in 2015 as they returned home at midnight from the NCAA basketball finals in Indianapolis.
For Jessica, he also was a reason.
As she explained to judges, Butler had hired her "back in Bloomington, Ill.," as an intern while in college, taught her the "artistry" to sales (today Jessica works for a division of Blue Shield, selling employee benefits programs to companies), pushed her, encouraged her to take risks and that "dreaming big brings out the best.”
“I’m not sure I would be where I am today,” said Jessica, “if not for Andy Butler’s encouragement and motivation.”
In Bloomington, “Scharf” is a well-known name — after Scharf Trucking, a successful transportation and materials business started by her folks, Joe and Carrie, back in the early 1980s.
“We’ve told all of our kids that you can be anything you want in life, if you work very hard for it,” says Joe. “We made them work as kids and Jessica has worked so hard to get where she is now. We’re unbelievably proud.”
Come Sept. 17, the home opener at raucous CenturyLink, they also will be watching as Jessica goes sidelines with 49 other Sea Gals and national TV.
“I cannot explain how excited I am for that moment,” she says.
There, she’ll enter her own dream.
“I know I will think of Andy when I get out onto the field,” says Jessica. “He was so instrumental in pushing me to reach for things like this ...”
Yes, perhaps not in dimension but in spirit, in an odd sense, back on the sidelines of a major sporting event there he will be, via Jessica.
Don’t forget the earplugs, Andy.