By Nash Nunnery
Clinton native Clair Montgomery is living a double life in Nashville, but it’s one she wouldn’t trade with anyone at this stage in her life.
By day, she’s a project coordinator for a Nashville design and engineering company, organizing a mountain of paperwork for the firm’s architects and engineers.
For her second job, she puts down her pen and picks up her pom poms – as a cheerleader for the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans.
With complex dance routines and pretty looks, cheerleaders have become a part of the NFL fabric, just like the multimillion- dollar players on the field.
Borrowing from the lyrics of an old Journey song, 25-year-old Clair Elise Montgomery is a self-admitted small-town girl living in the not-so lonely world of the NFL and the country-glitz of Nashville.
“Clinton is a wonderful community and I have great memories of growing up there,” said the Ole Miss and CHS grad. “I’ve always enjoyed coming back home and visiting with my friends and enjoying the small-town feel.”
Fellow Nashville resident Meredith Edwards, who grew up with Montgomery in Clinton, isn’t surprised to see her friend on the football field sidelines.
“Clair is the kind of girl who’s always up for an adventure. She’s very independent,” Edwards said, adding that her friend also has a competitive edge, whether on the high school tennis team’s courts or Attache show choir’s stage.
Montgomery often was a featured soloist for the show choir, said Attache director David Fehr.
“She was an outstanding performer, had a great work ethic and a voice that was incredible,” said Fehr. “Clair is tough as nails, and her earning a spot on the Titans cheerleading squad does not surprise me at all. She never knew the word ‘quit,’ and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Montgomery says she tried out for the Titans squad on a whim.
“I was sitting in my car waiting to go to work, and I heard a spot on the radio announcing Titans cheerleader auditions,” she said. “Well, at the end of that week I attended their cheerleader workshop, where we learned a (dance) routine.”
She signed up for tryouts, although she hadn’t regularly danced in six years. Dancing, not cheering, is priority one for an NFL cheerleader.
No problem for Montgomery.
“Clair is one of the best dancers I’ve ever known,” said Edwards.
Montgomery survived the grueling competition, including weeks of exhausting dance routines and detailed interviews in front of a panel of Nashville celebrity judges.
At the end of finals night, before an enthusiastic crowd at the Wildhorse Saloon, Montgomery’s name was called as one of 26 selected for the 2009 squad.
“It was awesome to be chosen, but I think my mother (Debbie) was more excited than I was,” she said. “She knew how much I wanted it and what I had been through over the weeks of auditions.”
Mom Debbie and sister Marly attended Clair’s NFL regular season debut Sept. 20 when the Titans hosted the Houston Texans.
“Going up to Nashville to watch her perform was so exciting,” said Debbie Montgomery, a secretary at Mount Salus Christian School. “They split up the squad on the field and during the first half, Clair’s group performed right in front of our section.”
Sworn to secrecy by Clair not to tell anyone she was trying out for a coveted slot, she was relieved when her daughter was selected.
“It was extremely hard to keep my mouth shut,” said Debbie Montgomery. “Everyone was real excited when I finally told them Clair was a Titans cheerleader.”
Each cheerleader must pass a fitness test before taking the sideline, not unlike the NFL athletes.
“We still had to endure an excruciating month of physical tests and workouts,” said the personable blonde. “They won’t let you near the field to dance until you pass the fitness test. And during the season, in addition to making public appearances, we have dance classes twice a week to learn new game routines.”
Delighted to have a Mississippian on this year’s squad, Titans director of cheerleading Stacie Kinder says Montgomery has surpassed her expectations.
“We are so happy to have her on the squad since the team has so many Mississippi fans,” said Kinder. “She’s extremely outgoing, has a great body and an excellent work ethic.”
Montgomery passed all five phases of the fitness test with flying colors, said Kinder.
Sounding more like a football player’s regime, the test is not for the faint of heart. It consists of a mile run, 25 “V-ups” (abdominal exercise), 25 military-style push-ups, two-minute step test (12-inch block, 100-step minimum) and a 300-meter shuttle run.
The cheerleaders are paid, Kinder said, but it isn’t a full-time salary. “They are required to have a full-time job or to be in school,” she said.
As the season wears on and the cheerleaders make more appearances, Montgomery is recognized more often on the street.
“That’s cool, but one of the best things is our involvement in the community,” she said, referring to public appearances promoting various fundraisers.
And when she puts the pom poms down?
“The firm has been very supportive of me becoming a Titans cheerleader, but at the office, I’m still Clair the project coordinator.”