There are hundreds of social clubs at The Villages, a retirement community in Sumter County, Florida, but there’s nothing quite like the Villages Cheerleaders. This top-notch squad of spry cheerleaders celebrates their 22nd anniversary next month, and these 100-plus dynamos are still going strong with more than 100 events per year.
“It really took on a life of its own,” says founder and team captain Gerry Lynch. “No matter where we go, we’re recognized and people are so happy to see us. Cheering is what we’re all about. When we cheer for people, they feel good and when they feel good, we feel good.”
It all started when Gerry and her husband Dick arrived at The Villages in 1992, where she discovered that a group of cheerleaders would perform at the annual “Battle of the Sexes,” a sporting competition between the men and women residents. After a few years, she realized that it would be fun to form a social group that was active all year, and the Villages Cheerleaders was born.
Today, the Villages Cheerleaders performs at more than 100 events per year ranging from charity sporting events like Relay for Life and MS Walk to hoedowns, festivals and chili cookoffs. During the Villages’ Fourth of July celebrations, Gerry and her “girls” even rent a bus so they can perform in all three of the community’s town squares. She says it’s the team’s biggest event of the year.
“Everybody knows the patriotic songs, but they don’t always know all of the words, so I use a kind of sign language along with the songs,” she explains. “It gives them such a different feeling. It brings tears to people’s eyes. You have to see it to understand it. People get engrossed in the songs, and they don’t realize until we perform these motions how deep the feeling is. That’s our finest hour.”
But this lively group isn’t just about performing. The team serves as a social club but also does a significant amount of fundraising during three events each year. Recently, the Villages Cheerleaders presented The Villages Shrine Club with a check for $5,000, designated for use at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, Florida. The money will be used to purchase specialty equipment that makes it easier for the Orthotics and Prosthetics Department to fit devices and even to fabricate three-dimensional, custom-designed devices.
“We’re so very busy,” says Lynch. “We found that a lot of the events where we were performing were fundraisers, and important ones. So, we started doing things to raise funds to help out. It’s been such a great feeling to be able to do things for other people, because we get the benefit of it. We have such a feel-good feeling after we’ve done something for others. There’s so much that goes into it that people wouldn’t believe it.”
The team is officially 100 strong, with about two-thirds of the team as active performers. Just making the team is an accomplishment, since at one time there was a five-year waiting list to join the Villages Cheerleaders. After twenty years, they’re quite a tight-knit group.
“We’ve become like a family,” Lynch says. “It’s such a beautiful, good feeling because each cheerleader has each other’s back. Even those that can’t perform still come to practice and to meetings because they still want to be part of this feeling. If someone is sick, I put it out on the computer and each one sends a card to give them support. It’s not just my doing; it’s a family. I might be head of the family, but I can’t do it without them.”
New members get personal lessons from Gerry in addition to group practices, learning high-energy songs like “YMCA” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” as well as complex, energetic dance routines.
“They have to be ready to jump right in and be ready to go, because we’re very active,” says Gerry of her new recruits. “I teach the dance routines that we do on the squares as well as the ones we perform at our smaller events. I always say to the girls, ‘You’re here to cheer them on and you’re here to make them happy.’ Once you send that to an event, it comes to life. Each time someone walks past us, they get cheered.”
Membership has other benefits as well. A recent study by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteering for groups like the Villages Cheerleaders leads to better health, and that older adults are the most likely to receive physical and mental health benefits from their activities. Gerry augments the team’s meetings and performances with girls’ nights out, parties, birthday celebrations and a monthly Spirit Award for cheerleaders who have made a special effort.
“You don’t want to be sick, so you’re going to push yourself to get that little extra energy to get yourself back up and running again,” Lynch says.
With thousands of events under their belt, the Villages Cheerleaders is still going strong.
“Performing makes every event something special for the girls,” says Lynch. “I’ve been doing this for so long, it’s amazing. How many groups can say they’ve been together this long? That good feeling that you did something right is incredible. I’m very proud of everything that has happened with us.”
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.
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