Panther pride swells as new season approaches

The city of Pelham’s little league football program is only a decade old, but the opportunity to become a Pelham cheerleader existed for little girls soon after Pelham High School opened in the 70s.

Fran Hunter was the original PHS cheerleader sponsor and she had the idea for a little girls’ clinic that would take place every year in conjunction with the high school tryout clinic. Responding to an elementary school flier, excited girls flocked to PHS every afternoon for two weeks eager for the chance to be cheerleaders.

Just as the high school girls learned cheers, chants and a pompon routine, the little girls learned everything for their performance at the Green and Gold game. All of this generated a huge crowd for the game.

Today Pelham’s tradition of pairing younger cheerleaders with high school cheerleaders continues. The tradition has transformed with city league football. Under the direction of Varsity Cheerleading Sponsor Lisa Winters (a former Pelham High cheerleader herself), PHS cheerleaders host a clinic for the girls cheering for the city teams. During the clinic, the varsity cheerleaders teach each squad their very own dance and cheers galore. The younger cheer teams and their sponsors take what they’ve learned to the sidelines for a year of fun. They also take a special relationship with their high school cheerleader buddies.

The city’s 120-pound team cheer sponsor Sherry Taylor graduated as a Pelham High School cheerleader in 1991.

“I am still in shock at how much our younger girls look up to the older girls. You would have thought that these varsity cheerleaders were celebrities. Our four leaders were very kind to our girls,” Taylor said.

Nakia Carter, Melissa Elliot, Ashley Combs and Heather Combs developed special relationships with the girls they taught. When I was one of Hunter’s cheerleaders, she impressed upon us the importance of creating a tradition for our brand new high school. Thirty years later, the PHS cheerleaders carry on a proud legacy serving as supportive and caring role models as well as functioning as athletes and performers in their own right.

On Aug. 15, Pelham’s two oldest youth football teams will play Helena teams on Bobby Hayes Field at the high school’s Ned Bearden Stadium. Play begins at 5 p.m. and culminates with the high school Green and Gold game. I’m hoping our proud tradition of football, cheerleading and a packed stadium keeps going strong.