As typical saying goes: “These aren’t your father’s cheerleaders.”
Then again, maybe these are.
For nearly a decade, the Orange County Jammers Senior Cheerleaders have been competing with other regional squads like energetic teens, inspiring fan support for Orange County Senior Games teams and proudly plying their pom-poms, adding a spirited element at events across the state from private parties to parades.
Jammers founder and head cheerleader Clementine Self said it took a year or two before the current squad took shape.
“We originally started in 2005, then they stopped, and a new group started in 2006,” Self said during a Thursday practice at the Seymour Center on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, where four of the six cheerleaders were on hand.
“Some other people participated the first year,” Self added, “but then these wonderful people came on board. They’ve been aboard ever since, and they’re fabulous.”
Self said the idea formulated after a visit to a performance by the Durham Divas, which whom the Jammers now have a friendly rivalry.
“I promised Ms. Frances Hargraves that I would participate in Senior Games,” Self said, “and then a classmate of mine with the cheerleading squad the Durham Diva’s invited me to come see them perform. I asked, ‘What do you have to do to be involved with this?’ She said you just had to be participating in Senior Games. I thought, well, we could do this in Orange County.”
The current squad consists of six members — five ladies and one gentleman — ranging in age from 63 to 83 years of age: Self 65; Lynn Lyght, 65; William Fonville , 83; Phyllis Fearrington, 63; Marilyn Guthrie, 74; and Rosa Bowles, 68.
“Phyllis is our baby,” Lyght said. We have to take care of our baby, and we take care of our oldest member too: William Fonville.”
“We were the first cheerleading team to have a male cheerleader,” Self pointed out, “and when we went back to the next year’s competition, everybody had found them a man.”
“He’s my spotter. He holds me up (in our pyramid),” Lyght said, “and he’s a great dancer; he gets the crowd going.”
Surprisingly, these are not simply one-time cheerleaders looking to relive high school years. They’re a group of dynamic, positive individuals with the time and energy to spread a little cheer.
“I would have done it in high school, but it wasn’t feasible, because my school was in Hillsborough, and I was on the other side of Chapel Hill,” Fearrington said.
“For me, I had a lot of spirit,” Lyght said. “I was on the stunt team in high school, and I was a sub(stitute) cheerleader), but I never got to sub.”
Lyght has the last word now, however: “I can’t do stunts like that now, but I am at the top of our pyramid. I’m like, ‘Look at me now, baby.’”
Self said that the Jammers have performed all across the state over the past six years. They’ve visited senior centers, retirement homes and medical facilities; they’ve appeared in parades, at Rex and UNC Hospitals, cheered for the ARC of Orange County, for the Girls on the Run 5K Runs, the Susan B. Komen Walk for Breast Cancer in Charlotte and even have appeared at birthday parties.
“We compete against other senior cheerleading teams from across the state,” Self added, “but we’ve cheered at all of the activities at the North Carolina Senior Games, and we do cheer for the Orange County Senior Games. We’ve cheered for basketball games and for track and field.”
Such an ambitious and active schedule for six seniors takes commitment, determination, and a pocket full of pain relievers.
“I’m getting a little pain in my knees,” Fearrington admitted, “but I just take Aleve on certain days. The hardest part is getting everybody together and learning routines. We have part-time trainers to teach us, but we have to keep working at them.”
The joys of cheering far outweigh the aches, pains, and practices, however.
“I like just cheering for the crowd and seeing them participating with us – especially the senior citizens,” Self said.
“... Seeing the smiles on the peoples’ faces,” Fearrington offered.
“It’s just fun for me,” Bowles added. “I enjoy it: it puts a smile on my face. I’m new, so a lot of the routines I have to do over and over, but I’m fine with it.”
The best part about being a Jammer, however, is unanimously offered up by the entire squad at once, as sure as if it was a choreographed cheer: “The camaraderie.”
“We get together, we go out to lunch, and we’re good friends,” Lyght said.
Self said participation pays back, sometimes in unpredictable ways.
“An interesting thing about Marilyn Guthrie: she called me so many times, because she really wanted to participate,” Self said. “Then right before our first practice, she had a stroke. But you’d never know it: she has been in here all along. I think it’s motivated her to rebuild muscles, and I think this has helped her recuperation.”
The Jammers earned a silver medal in their division of last year’s Senior Games Cheerleading Competition.
“We were in the medium group,” Lyght explained. “There were 12 senior cheerleading teams in total from across the state.”
Before the competition was divided into divisions by squad size several years ago, the Jammers had to go toe-to-toe with much larger, more established squads like the Durham Divas, but they weren’t timid.
“I believe the Durham Divas have about thirty folks,” Self said, “but the six of us, we roll right up with them like we had thirty. We’ve got no problems going in and competing against them. The last couple years, they’ve divided the competition into small, medium, and large (squads)… Before then though, we competed against whatever size cheerleading team there was.”
“We’ve won the gold medal, we won the silver medal this past year, and we’re going back for the gold medal this year,” Self proclaimed proudly.
Lyght said the competition remains friendly, however.
“Some of them were our classmates,” Lyght said. “When we’re in the room with them, we’re all (friendly).”
“I go to church with some of them,” Self said. “I’m in organizations with some of them…and they cheer us on too: it’s all positive.”
“But we love holding up that gold medal,” Lyght added, laughing.
Self said that an opportunity for Jammer squad membership is open to those aged 55 and older, but that they want to keep the size intimate.
“We don’t have a set number, but we don’t want to be (classified) in the large squad division; we don’t want more than nine people,” Self said. “We want to give people a chance, but they have to be willing to come in and do the routines – to work and to participate.”
Those looking to reserve the Orange County Jammers for an event can call Clementine Self at (919) 942-8614 or Cydnee Sims at (919) 245-4250. The Jammers do not charge a fee for an appearance.
“We just do this for the love of doing it,” Fearrington said. “I tell people to just call us. ... We don’t turn down donations, but we don’t ask for a fee.”
No, the Orange County Jammers will not tax your riches, and that’s a good deal. More importantly, however, you’ll simply be a good deal richer for knowing them.
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