Time is on my side … not

Gill Clopton

When I moved to Raleigh, I had to change my Friday night ritual. I was no longer able to follow Vance High football because of my work schedule, so I visited Millbrook. When I walked to the field for my first game there, a cheerleader came up to me, a young lady named Kristi Baker. “Hi, I’m Kristi. Welcome to Millbrook.” At that moment, I became a Millbrook fan, and I still am.

When I moved to Raleigh, I had to change my Friday night ritual. I was no longer able to follow Vance High football because of my work schedule, so I visited Millbrook. When I walked to the field for my first game there, a cheerleader came up to me, a young lady named Kristi Baker. “Hi, I’m Kristi. Welcome to Millbrook.” At that moment, I became a Millbrook fan, and I still am.

I never knew Kristi other than her smiling and saying hello whenever I saw her; she did that for everyone she met. I did get to know some Millbrook girls later, but they weren’t cheerleaders; they worked at Dunkin’ Donuts.

I was a little disappointed at that first Wildcat game — it was overcrowded, it was hard to see the game, Kristin Mallory wasn’t on the sidelines. … Come to think of it, I’m not too sure I even watched the games back then.

Okay, let’s back up. Back to Vance High. The thing I really liked about Kristi Baker is that she reminded me of the Viking cheerleaders. They were the nicest kids in the world. And they were more than cheerleaders; they were part of Henderson. I never told Kristin this and maybe she won’t shoot me for saying it, but oh my goodness I thought she was beautiful, as were the other girls. You couldn’t have paid me a million dollars to speak to them back then. I would have gone brain dead and made a fool of myself and I knew it! But they really were the nicest kids in Henderson and I stay in touch with most of them today on social media.

I came along about about 10 years earlier than these girls. I didn’t know what a cheerleader was; I didn’t even sit on that side of the field. To me, they were simply the prettiest girls in school. That’s the one thing they all had in common; Barbra Franklin, Cynthia Edwards, FoReign Darensburg, Gisele Breitenberger, Kim Jones … they were the prettiest girls in school. I didn’t know how difficult a job it was to be a cheerleader, the talent and dedication required, or the pressure of being a representative of the community. It was a part of cheering not everyone noticed. But it seemed that the Vance squads of the late ’80s thrived on that pressure and began to change the rules.

Today, I don’t know if they still thrive on pressure, but they’re all the same community staples we fell for 30 years ago. Kim Kelly, Allison Kirby, Rhesha Williams, Jeanne Lark, Tammy Anderson and the others … how big of an impact did you have on Henderson? Well, I’m still writing about you and no one ever has to ask who I’m talking about. They already know you.

You know what I really like about it? While most athletes keep getting more egotistical and less talented, cheerleaders keep getting better every year, pushing themselves to new limits. But they haven’t lost that magic that makes them leaders. For the past few years, I’ve followed a few members of Oxford Prep’s squad. This year, the youngest of those, Autum Brantley, graduated. Thinking back, a lot of things are the same, while others are so much different. The girls are intelligent young women with academic scholarships and limitless futures. They are still pillars of the community. But they now have something else; they are finally recognized as athletes. Today, they don’t have to wait 10 years to be noticed.

When I wrote about Ellie Hedgepeth and MacKenkie Terry, I ended with “I think our nation’s future is in good hands.” I still believe that, so I’ll say it again for this story. Good luck Autum.

 

Gill Clopton is a resident of Henderson.