Cheerleading squad in Sun City proves age is just a number

- Sun City is known for being an active retirement community, with dozens of options for senior citizens to stay involved.

One group, however, is particularly inspiring, as they are proving age is just a number.

"As silly as it sounds, I enjoy wearing the costumes," said Ruth Pharris. "They're glittery, they're cute. People don't expect 70 to 80-year-old women to be wearing dresses like we're wearing. It's just unusual. It's just awesome actually."

Pom poms, dance routines, and even a few tricks. This cheerleading squad has got it all, and then some. The squad, called the Sun City Poms, have been around since 1979. By the looks of it, there's no sign of slowing down. 

"We started as a cheerleading squad for a women's softball team here in Sun City," said Greta Paulsen, the group's director. "We were known as the Sun City Saints. Rumor has it they weren't getting good attendance, so they thought some cheerleaders might bring some attendance."

Today, the team has evolved into a full-fledged choreographed dance team, with two groups including marchers and performers.

The catch is all of these ladies, full of pep, are in their golden years. To be on the team, a person must be 55 years old, or older.

"Our youngest right now is a marcher, and she is 57," said Paulsen. "Our youngest performer is 65 or 66. Our oldest is 85, and she's a performer and marcher."

The marchers are responsible to march in about eight parades a year, including the 2.5-mile Veterans Day and Fiesta Bowl parades.

"In parades, it's like, 'wow you have elderly people, seniors really being able to do that,'" said Paulsen.

The performers show off their skills during nearly 40 performances a year at various places. Paulsen and Pharris, an Assistant Teaching Instructor, say performing at high school assemblies is by far their favorite.

"We come in and do our signature routine and of course grandmas and great grandmas. It's pretty exciting for them to see what we can do," said Paulsen. "We also do a lot of performances at assisted living homes, memory care centers. We have performed for conventions."

"You get an auditorium full of screaming kids, and then these old women, essentially their grandmothers, come out in little costumes dancing, and they're so screaming wild we can hardly hear the music, they're just so excited to see us," said Pharris.        

Some ladies are on just one team, some on both. The marchers practice every Monday, for a few hours.

"We have a paid choreographer that comes in once a week and works with us. She teaches us a new routine, and fine-tunes our existing routines," said Paulsen.    

The performers, meanwhile, practice Mondays and Thursdays, for several hours each day.

"In performing, we do stunts, one of our acrobatic numbers," said Pharris. "We have gals that do the splits, and several others of us are on our hands and knees with someone on our back, and they're in awe at even the baton twirling. We do that in a routine, and that's not a common thing. Even the high school kids don't even do batons much anymore."               

This squad isn't just a team of talented, energetic and spry women, it's a family. 

"I had been in the group about three years and my husband passed away," said Pharris. "So keeping active with the group and having to go somewhere three or four times a week really helped me keep my senses about me. It just kept me going."

And behind the sequins, pom poms and dance routines are the women who will keep pushing the limits.

"Well as long as I can move," said Pharris. "As long as I can move, I'll be here. I think we all have that. That's what keeps us going."

They are also proving age is just that: a number.

"For me, it's active and memory," said Paulsen. "Keeps your memory sharp because when I came in, I really had to work at choreography and coordinating the hands with the poms and the feet"

"Regardless of your age, if your mind says you can't do it, you're not going to be able to do it," said Pharris. "You have to get out. You have to try. You have to keep moving."

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