‘I’m 80 and I Have More Energy Than Most People’: Arizona’s Retired Cheerleading Team – In Photos

'I'm 80 and I Have More Energy Than Most People': Arizona's Retired Cheerleading Team - In Photos

Sun City, Arizona was the first large-scale retirement community in the United States when it opened in 1960. For the past 43 years, it has been home to the cheerleading grandmothers of the Sun City Poms, a marching and performance group whose 28 members range in age from 58 to 89; they train three times a week and perform at up to 50 events a year. American photographer Kendrick Brinson has been documenting Sun City since 2009 and describes it as a “joyous and uplifting” place to work. Towards the end of last year, when vaccines brought the Covid-19 pandemic under control, she wanted to know how the Poms were doing and flew back to Arizona. On December 11, the Poms marched in the Christmas in the Park holiday parade in Litchfield Park, only their third appearance since the pandemic put local events on hold for 18 months. “We all worked hard on Zoom to be ready to perform when the lockdown was lifted,” said Kathy Villa, 65, the Poms’ marching director. “I could have cried seeing so many happy faces at once,” says Brinson.

Members of the Sun City Poms hula hoop in October 2020 (top) practicing marching and dancing in chorus again as Covid restrictions were lifted

Sharon Word (above, second from right) has been with the Poms for nine years. “What keeps you young?” she says. “Learning – never lose the child in your soul and enjoy life. The first time I came here, I thought: oh, it’s like Girl Scout camp! I’ll just keep going until I die.”

Ginger Price (center of top photo and top left) is 89 and says: ‘I hope I’m still a Pom when I’m 90’

Some of the Poms managed to continue meeting in member Sherri Sharp’s backyard when the pandemic put a stop to their regular training sessions. Greta Paulsen, 73, said it “feels wonderful” to be able to march and perform together again.

Mary Zirbel gets ready at her home in Sun City

Mary Zirbel, 80, is the longest-serving member of the Poms. After 21 years, she has no plans to stop. “I have the energy,” she says. “I have more energy than most people.” As the group’s majorette — a role she also filled in high school — Zirbel leads the marchers and loves hearing the audience’s reactions: “You girls go! Oh, I wish I had those legs! We love you.”

Zirbel (above right) with the baton, the twirl of which, she says, always makes the audience smile

Members hold hands and pray (above) as they prepare for the 2021 Christmas Parade in Litchfield Park, Arizona – their third appearance together again after months of lockdowns kept them apart. President Peggy Parsons (pictured center right), 80, says: ‘We’re like sisters now. I have osteoporosis and worsening disc disease and the more exercise I get the better.

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