At an age when some women are starting to slow down, Blanche Penn, 59, is training for a statewide cheerleading competition.
She’ll be joined by teammates Dorothy Joshua, 64; Kate McClain, 66; Mary Reeves, 73; Shirley McNeil, 74; and Mary Davis, 75.
Together, these six women make up the Silver Foxes, a Charlotte cheerleading squad formed six months ago. In May they knocked off a more seasoned team of older women to win the regional crown, and next month they’ll travel to Raleigh to compete for the state title.
Reeves, a Rock Hill native who retired from the Charlotte Housing Authority 15 years ago, said she never expected the team to make it this far, at least not so quickly.
Until the Silver Foxes were formed, Charlotte had only one cheerleading group for seniors. That squad, the Silver Stars, advanced to the state finals each year because it had no local competition.
But at the urging of Helen Tolbert, coordinator of the Senior Games, Penn decided to form a second team. Penn said she went to various groups she knew and began recruiting potential team members.
She went to a crocheting group looking for members. She went to her church and contacted friends and neighbors in the Derita neighborhood.
In February, the group began practicing at the Phillip O. Berry Recreational Center in West Charlotte. In March they ordered their purple-and-white uniforms – about two months before the regional competition. They would be taking on a team formed more than 10 years earlier.
“We were elated,” Reeves said of the team’s regional victory. “We didn’t know we were going to do that.”
Never too old
To stay in top form, the women perform at local festivals, birthday parties and at church games. They’ve even performed at Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg Commission meetings.
Reeves said her emotions swing from scared to nervous to excited each time she puts on the uniform.
At a recent basketball game between young and older members of St. Paul Baptist Church, the Silver Foxes cheered in the stands and did a half-time performance. The packed house broke into wild applause when the women entered the gymnasium. Some in the audience asked if they were real cheerleaders.
Reeves said people are often “surprised that someone my age is involved in something like that.”
At the former Emmett Scott High School in Rock Hill, Reeves was a letter girl. Letter girls didn’t cheer, she said, they just spelled the school name during football games.
Reeves said that since her retirement she exercises and does water aerobics for an hour three days a week. She’s the mother of four, grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother of 14.
At age 75, Mary Davis, who retired from Lance, is the oldest of the group.
In high school, she said, she didn’t have time to cheer. She now exercises at the Bettie Rae Center.
“It’s something different, she said of cheerleading. “Something to keep moving.”
Penn, the youngest Silver Fox, said that at age 59 she can do a split and is trying to perfect it for the state championship.
Looking ahead to state finals
The Silver Foxes normally practice twice a week but recently stepped up rehearsals to prepare for the state finals. They’ll be competing against veteran squads, some with more than 10 members.
“We’re gonna serve them something,” Penn said. “We don’t care how good they are; we’re gonna go in there and do what we gotta do.”
Win or lose, the women say, the Silver Foxes will keep going. In the future, Penn said, the team may even recruit some men – for lifts and pyramids.