Charlotte Seniors Go For Cheerleading Gold

Jul 29, 2016

The Silver Foxes are a frequent sight at community events throughout Charlotte. They’re also senior citizens, ranging in age from 55 to 80.

On a weekday evening, the eight older African-American ladies are gathered in Blanche Penn’s basement. After a quick snack, they’re ready for cheer practice.

Their music mix includes Rihanna’s “Work,” and Lil Jon’s song by the same name. 

The Foxes shake their hips and their pom-poms, doing turns and synchronizing their footwork. They’re learning a new routine. The Foxes have frequented County Commission meetings, CIAA basketball games, and birthday parties. Recently they attended a campaign event for Hillary Clinton. They wrote a cheer for the occasion.

“Don’t let Don get you down in the dumps, because we’re going to dump the Trump!”

But now they’re in training mode. They’re focused on the state Senior Games competition in Raleigh in September. They won gold four years ago. Last year, it was silver. They want to be recognized once again as the top senior cheer squad in the state.

The cheer they’re preparing shows they’re feeling confident.

“We’re fired up, we’re sizzlin’, we can’t be stopped. So come on Silver Foxes, let’s take it to the top,” they say.

65-year-old Blanche Penn founded the group 9 years ago through the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Games and Silver Arts competitions. She didn’t cheer in high school- in fact only two of the current members have. But she thought it’d be a lot of fun. She put out the word.

“From the senior nutrition program I know we got one, from this knitting class… so that’s how we kinda found them, all over the place,” says Ms. Blanche.

She also found some recruits within her own family. Two of the Foxes are her younger sisters.

62-year-old Vivian Gillard is the most recent recruit. She’s been in the group six months. She learned about the Silver Foxes through her daughter, who saw them practicing at a rec center near Uptown.

Ms. Vivian recounts, “She said, Mama, you're still full of energy- because they say I need to sit down and I don’t sit down. And she said, Mama, I seen some ladies your age cheering! Would you like to cheer? And I said, yeah!”

Their routines start with old school cheers, then go into dance numbers. The women switch between formations and sway their arms and hips in different directions. Some move a little more than others. But with practice, eventually everyone gets on beat. For Founder Blanche Penn, it’s obvious why they’re called the Silver Foxes.

“Cuz we’re foxy,” she says. “And we have the gray hair… some of us don’t have all the grays, you can see… that’s how we came up with that.”

It’s a workout being here, and they enjoy the exercise. 67-year-old Dorothy Graham says there’s also a strong sense of unity.

“I look forward to go and be with the ladies, it’s something I look forward to doing,” says Ms. Dorothy. “I just love all the ladies, we’re like one big family.”

A family that wants to bring home gold.