Dancing in the NBA…and the NFL
by Mike Trudell
Los Angeles Lakers
January 24, 2016
What’s the difference between dancing for an NBA team, and cheering for an NFL squad?
Well, Nick Young doesn’t really know, but that didn’t stop him from speculating extensively and randomly on the topic!
To balance things out with some actual insight, we enlisted first year Laker Girl Lauren, who used to cheer for the New Orleans Saints.
Below is a transcription of separate interviews with Swaggy P and Lauren:
Q: How does the audition process compare for NBA team vs. NFL teams?
Swaggy: I think they all find fliers and stuff on Instagram and Twitter to find out. It’s probably harder to be a Laker Girl because there’s more variety in L.A. and it’s a different stage. There are just more ladies, you know what I’m saying!
Lauren: The auditions were actually very similar, I must say, with some slight differences. There were a lot more girls auditioning for the Lakers Girls, which made it more competitive. With the Saints, it was a little longer of a process, lasting a full week, but it still had the preliminary round, with cuts through the day. We had to take a football test to make sure we knew the game, including naming all 32 teams. I did get all of them (after studying), but I’d known nothing about football before I cheered for the Saints. That did make me gain a love for it.
Q: How did you find out you made both teams?
Swaggy: I always wanted them to put it up on a sign, and be able to see my name on a list somewhere. Probably outside the arena on a wall or something. You know?
Lauren: One sweet touch with the Lakers that was nice is that (Lakers Director, Game Operations and Entertainment) Lisa (Estrada) calls each girl individually to let them know if they made the team or not. I was at the beach at the time – because that’s my happy place – just hoping for the best. Lisa called, and she thanked me for my time and coming out and told me she had a position for me. I was very, very happy. The Saints posted it online. I was in school at the time, in class, refreshing the Saints website until I found out. I think I got a text from my dad letting me know that they’d updated it and I’d made it.
Q: Is there a difference between dancing and cheering?
Swaggy: Yes. Big difference. With cheering they have the permanent smile. It’s more nice. Make me happy, make you all happy. Dancing sometimes you just get your groove on. I can dance. I’m kinda like Michael Jackson. I’m the king of the dancing video games, actually. I’m good.
Lauren: They’re both dance teams that require technical training. I was a cheerleader in high school, where you have the tumbling and stunting and all that. We don’t do that here, where it’s more high-energy routines. One thing that’s completely different about the NFL is dancing with pom poms. I’m had to get used to my hand placement here with the Lakers, because you don’t think about it like that (with pom poms). The pom poms probably made us look more like cheerleaders, but since there are so many people in the dome, it was a visual for people especially sitting up high. But yes, you have choreographed routines for both the NFL and the NBA, though we dance more with the Lakers.
Q: What is the game day experience like in the respective sports?
Swaggy: They probably listen to some crunk music to get fired up to dance. But for cheering maybe it’s make up and hair first. But the dancers may have to get more, like, ready for game day. But the Laker Girls are also classy. They’re doing their thing!
Lauren: It’s a much longer season in the NBA, and a lot smaller of a team. There are 22 of us Laker Girls, and we had 36 on the Saints, which made it really, really different. I know when I first made the Lakers, it felt so much smaller and more close knit. You’re able to build relationships a little easier, being that it’s a smaller team. You get to know every girl on the team. Game day experience wise, Staples Center is also smaller and more intimate than the Superdome, because you’re much closer. In the Superdome, we were standing far away from the fans, and I could barely make out any faces in the crowd.
Q: Why did you want to become a Laker Girl?
Swaggy: (Editor’s note: Swag was not asked this question, but his response probably would have been: “I’m not a Laker Girl tho.”)
Lauren: I always wanted to move to L.A. and audition for the Laker Girls, and (current Laker Girl) Karla and I used to dance together in Atlanta, and I reached out to her and asked her about it. She told me about her experience, and it just seemed like a really good fit for me. There can be an image tied to a lot of professional teams, and it can be hard to find a team with class. There are very few teams I’d actually go out for, and the Saints and Lakers are two of them. There is something very traditional about the Laker Girls that hasn’t changed, and it’s very refreshing to have that class, and have girls that are so smart. All these girls are very driven and very smart with lives outside of this.* You’d be amazed: these girls have substance. I’m probably going to do it until I can’t do it anymore, because I love it and you only live once. *Lauren is an entertainment coordinator for L.A. Fashion Week.
Q: How do the practices to get ready for games go?
Swaggy: I think there’s a difference … don’t the NFL cheerleaders have to practice on the field so maybe they need cleats? It’s kinda tough to dance in cleats, so, yeah. But the NBA can be in the gym … but also, they probably practice more hours and they have more games.
Lauren: It’s very similar, as we actually practiced Tuesday and Thursday in New Orleans, and Tuesday and Thursday for the Lakers if we don’t have a game. They last around the same amount of time.
Q: What athletes are more impressive?
Swaggy: Basketball players obviously. You really have to be an athlete … football you just have to get buff and run. I think it’s harder to be in the NBA than the NFL … but I like people to see me. Faces out! In football, you’re covered by a helmet.
Lauren: Now that I’m getting more comfortable I’m able to watch a bit more of the action. In my first few games, I was thinking more about the next routine: the formation, the counts and everything. I was a nervous wreck my first few games. But now I’m able to actually watch and relax and enjoy it more.
Q: Difference in the fans?
Swaggy: Well, L.A. is L.A. They’re the best, obviously. I don’t know the Saints fans or NFL fans as much.
Lauren: The fans are equally as loyal. Lakers fans are great, and they really get into the game. If there’s a little girl, I can actually make eye contact with her and wave, and that’s a special kind of interaction that you don’t get as much in football.
By Donna Echols
The glamour, beauty, perfectly choreographed dance moves, and glitzy black and gold uniforms are all part of the allure of the New Orleans Saintsations. We got a rare, exclusive peek behind the scenes to see what game day is like for these women on the Saints cheer and dance squad.
About five hours before kick-off, our Saintsations from Mississippi, are busy packing and then riding together to New Orleans for the game. All their training, exercising, healthy eating, practice and more practice is about to pay off before thousands of fans and often before nationally televised audiences.
Once we made our way into the large circular maze of the Superdome, we went to the Saintsations locker room. Yes, they have their own locker room with uniforms laid out in each locker with their names and photos above each. Off to the side of the locker room is an area for doing hair and make-up.
Walking into the Saintsations locker room you could feel the excitement and adrenalin as these women were rushing around getting ready for kick-off. Everyone was zoned-in and getting focused on game day. The atmosphere was fun, supportive, and highly energetic. This was my first time to meet our eleven Mississippi women who are part of the Saintsations team. We hugged and laughed together as if we were all long lost friends finally united.
Some of the Saintsations were busy practicing to perfect a dance move and others were paired up going over a routine. What was obvious to anyone in that locker room was the unity and camaraderie these women have with each other. The obvious support and encouragement they have for each other reminded me of walking into a big family reunion. Everyone had their game face on as the clock was ticking.
“We get to the Superdome several hours before the game and practice our dance routines” said Brandy Jarvis, of Biloxi. “As we rush around getting ready, we talk about how each other is doing in life outside of the Saintsations with our jobs, classes, and families. The women on this team help each other and support one another on and off the field,” Jarvis continued.
“It’s so exciting to walk into the stadium, the lights on the field are dim, and fans are already gathering outside to tailgate before the game starts,” said Summer Rials, of Hattiesburg. When asked what the most important lesson was from being on the Saintsations team, Rials said, “As women, we face a lot of adversity. I know how much encouragement I have received from other members of my team and what a difference it has made in my life. We should always find kind and positive words to express to one another, because strong women lift each other up, instead of bringing each other down.” Summer and fellow Mississippi Saintsation Kriste Lewis of Moss Point have both been selected to Japan with the USO. “I’m excited to go and see our troops overseas and bring a piece of home to them,” she said of their upcoming trip.
Sarah Friday, of Ocean Springs, says she loves game day because it means carpooling to New Orleans with some of the other Saintsations from Mississippi. “Once we get dressed in our uniforms and practice a bit, the most exciting part of the day is going out to Champion Square and visiting with tailgating fans,” she said. Friday added that selling calendars and taking selfies with children in the crowd is a part of what makes the experience exciting for her.
“The first time I dressed out with the Saintsations, it was like coming home to Mississippi when I walked into the Superdome,” recalled Elizabeth Kiehn of Hattiesburg. “I remember practicing my routines in our locker room before the game started. I was so excited, and kept thinking… bring on the field! Running onto the field, hearing the deafening roar of the fans cheering, the music blaring, I almost passed out, Kiehn laughed. Today, she’s a seasoned pro who loves interacting with children dressed in little Saints jerseys or Saints cheerleading uniforms.
The Saintsations from Mississippi all talked about their friendships and closeness from being a part of this group. “This team blurs the line between family and friendships… It’s a sisterhood for us here.” A person can only be on the Saintsations for a total of four years before they retire. And that limited time together creates a lifetime of friendships and fun memories.
The other element that was obvious from talking with our Mississippi women is how their director, Lesslee Fitzmorris, empowers them to do better, be stronger, and above all to support each other. Each member of the team is required to work a full time job or be enrolled in school full time. They credit their director with this requirement as she wants them to focus on bettering themselves and doing for others. Fitzmorris has been directing the Saintsations since 2001, and she’s no stranger to dance having been an LSU Golden Girl. “There is no such thing as being perfect,” said Fitzmorris. “I look for the unexpected in people, and help guide these women to do better, do more, and to give back to the community through service projects,” she said.
The Saintsations participate in various causes throughout the year. This year, one of their focuses is to teach others how to combat bullying. As one of the Saintsations pointed out, attractive girls get bullied, too. Learning how to cope with the negativity of others is helps develop a more self-confident, successful person.
Kriste Lewis, of Moss Point, added, “Even at 42, I still deal with bullying. People can say some hurtful things, and we have to be stronger and believe in ourselves as the best revenge against negative, hurtful people.” Lewis said, “Just enjoy the joy and be a positive person who helps inspire others as we do for each other on the Saintsations, and I do with other women who I meet.” Lewis’s advice on being supportive of others, “As women, we are each other’s cheerleaders, and we have to build each other up through support, encouragement, and finding our strengths. There is value in each of us, and we have to strive to find that in each other.”
Lewis went on to say, “To be a member of this team and let them see me fail, shows vulnerability. There is safety with these women, my teammates, and that vulnerability means trust. To be okay to fail and learn from that is what the Saintsations are all about.” No one on this team tolerates “mean girls.” Empowerment of each other builds strength and confidence in one’s self and that is a central theme each of these women exudes when they speak about the team effort Fitzmorris has created with the Saintsations.
After getting to visit with a few of our Saintsations from Mississippi, a voice boomed in over Fitzmorris’s walkie-talkie and said, “Get ready, we’re going in early, and you’ve got only three minutes to go.” With a commanding voice, she called the Saintsations together and said, “Okay, it’s game time. Circle up and let’s get ready to run the field.”
Everyone came to the center of the locker room, circled up, and Fitzmorris offered support and a prayer before the game. “It’s a joyful day, and share this experience with others through encouragement and mutual support. Give joy to those around you through actions as these actions speak the loudest.”
New Orleans is the home of the Saints, but nearly a third of the Saintsations — the cheer and team team for the NFL franchise — are from Mississippi. And these 11 women are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.
I am writing about them now, both it won’t be the last time. Another column is coming when I head to the Superdome to observe a day in the life of the Saintsations.
Kriste Lewis, of Moss Point, joined the Saintsations at age 40. “It was always on my bucket list,” Lewis says. Diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease where cysts form on the kidneys, the prospect of kidney failure is very real. There is no cure and the only options are dialysis or a transplant. “A healthy kidney is the size of your fist; a PKD kidney can grow as large as an NFL football. Ironic for me don’t you think,” she says with a smile.
Being a Saintsation is an example of following a dream, says Lewis. “So many little girls need positive role models to show them you can accomplish many dreams in your lifetime. I can be a wife, mother, teacher, friend, and still do something I enjoy.”
Now 41, Lewis believes in redefining what a woman can do. She doesn’t let her age — or disease —define her.
“Eventually, I know my disease will catch up with me. But that doesn’t mean I’ll sit on the side of the road and wait for it,” she says. “I plan on making good choices so I can have as much time for making memories with the people I love. That’s what life is all about, those memories, and being a Saintsation is a part of that. And, I love the fact that my family, especially my guys, are having just as much fun as I am. The Saints organization and our director, Lesslee Fitzmorris, and her staff work to empower women; this experience is a blessing.”
Andre’El Brown, of Hattiesburg, believes in living life to the fullest, too. “I love being able to show women and girls from Mississippi that they can follow their dreams.”
Brown also praised her teammates for their strength and support. “Being on this team gives you a sense of perseverance, hard work, dedication and responsibility.”
Sarah Bass, of Hattiesburg, didn’t make it to the Saintsations tryouts last year. On her way to the audition, she swerved off the road in the rain and totaled her car.
“Although this set me back a year, I decided not to let it affect my dream,” she says. With renewed determination, she made it to the next audition and secured a spot on the team.
“Everyone faces trials and tribulations in their lives. Some may be unpreventable, while others are consequences of choices; however, there is no path in the past that can affect one’s path for the future,” Bass says.
Elizabeth Kiehn, of Hattiesburg, smiles when she thinks of her road to the Saintsations. “I was a chubby little girl with big dreams wanting to be a professional dancer.”
The lesson? Never count yourself out, she advises. “Being a member of this team makes you a better person in life,” Kiehn says. “Lesslee is a strong, positive role model, and she takes pride in shaping the women on her team.”
Bailey Davis, of Ellisville, has her own take on the power of the Saintsations. “Society tries to make women think we are competing against one another, but this team has shown me we are more powerful together.”
Brandy Jarvis, of Biloxi, offers a similar perspective. “This team is more about who you are inside your heart than your outward appearance.” She emphasizes the team’s community service projects and willingness to help others overcome adversity.
Her advice? “Don’t let others determine your destiny, and feel blessed not stressed.”
“I live by these words because throughout my life,” she says. “I’ve had people try to tear me down.”
Morgan Welsh, of Jackson, started taking ballet at age 3 and also trained with Ballet Mississippi. She remembers being “one of those little girls, scrawny, big-eyed, and a tiny little thing who wanted to be something special.” The sisterhood she’s found within the Saintsations organization, she says, is what makes her feel special.
Welsh says her mother has a favorite quote that she’s applied to pursuing her dream: “Shoot for the moon, for if you fall, you fall among the stars.
“She made me believe that no goals were too high. I learned that you have to work hard and fight for what you want. You do not ever let someone tell you that you cannot achieve your dream,” she explains. “I’ve always heard that there is no shortcut to happiness, but maybe dancing on this team is one of them.”
Shelbie Suber, of Ellisville, tried out for the Saintsations last year and didn’t make the team. She took the setback in stride and tried again. “I love the Saints, and I pushed myself to be the best I can be. Being on this team will help me accomplish that and stay motivated.”
Sarah Friday, of Ocean Springs, believes in perseverance, too. “If it is your dream, it doesn’t matter how many times they tell you ‘no’ or how many times you fall on your face. Keep going! It’s hard to beat someone who never gives up.”
Being a member of the Saintsations, says Friday, has inspired her to make healthier choices when it comes to her diet. Eating well and working out are two of the messages she reinforces when meeting with younger women. Finally, adds Friday, “I would not have the confidence, dedication, determination and patience I have without this team. They are the most wonderful women you will ever meet.”
“Being a Saintsation has made me a better person,” says Alexis Barbaresi, of Hattiesburg. “The most exciting aspect of being on this team is knowing that I get to do what I love. Being a professional dancer is something I have dreamed of my whole life, and now it’s real.” Of goals and dreams, Barbaresi says, “Go for it! Listen to your heart, envision yourself pursuing your dreams, and work hard every single day until you have accomplished your heart’s deepest desires.”
There you have it, 11 outstanding reasons to be proud of these Saintsations for being role models and ambassadors for Mississippi. While they come from different backgrounds and have all struggled with the ups and downs life can throw their way, there’s one thing they all have in common. Tenacity.
So, when someone tells you that you can’t do something — or maybe it’s your own inner-voice sending that message — straighten your shoulders and reach for the stars and yell — Who Dat! Because “dat” will be you soaring to new heights.
By Kayla Randall
The Daily Reveille
“A Tiger on Saturdays and a Saint on Sundays” holds true for the Golden Girls and Tiger Girls who dance their way to the Saintsations after graduation.
An insanely competitive career, young women who aspire to be professional cheerleaders must devote their lives to dancing to get to the top of the pyramid, the NFL.
For four former Golden Girls and Tiger Girls, agreed their experiences and relationships cultivated at LSU are why they became Saintsations, the official cheerleaders of the New Orleans Saints.
Most Saintsations dancers are not full-time. Former Tiger Girl and Saintsation Heidi Walker was a pharmaceutical representative while working and continued since then.
Former Golden Girl and Saintsation Harmony Thibodeaux became a professor during her time as a Saintsation and balanced teaching classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with cheering for the Saints on Sundays.
“One day I was in class, and one of my students raised her hand with a question,” Thibodeaux said. “She was like ‘I went to the game last night, and I swear I saw a cheerleader on the field who looked like you. Was that you?’”
Thibodeaux was older than most Saintsations when she auditioned at 25 after receiving her master’s degree. She said NFL cheerleaders deserve to be paid more so they don’t have to juggle so many other jobs, while maintaining their bodies and looks.
Despite the salary, Thibodeaux said Saintsations was a valuable experience and she treasures her time with the Golden Girls.
“When you think of the stereotype of an NFL cheerleader, you don’t think, ‘Oh she’s a college professor,’ or, ‘Oh she’s an accountant,’” Thibodeaux said. “Women can really do anything, and most of these women are beautiful, brilliant, kind and funny, and they inspire me so much.”
MAKING THE CUT
Even before college and the Saintsations, Walker danced all her life.
After graduating from LSU with a kinesiology degree, she quickly became a Saintsation. Hailing from Lake Charles, Louisiana, Walker said she didn’t know much about Saintsations but auditioned nevertheless.
There were three days of auditioning. On the first day, dancers worked on routines, then on the second day those who made the cut were chosen for professional business interviews and to take a football knowledge test. Finally, applicants danced again on day three, and many were asked on-the-spot questions by supervisors.
Since graduating from LSU in 2010, this year is her first not working as a Saintsation. Walker said the organization only allows women to be Saintsations for four years.
“People always say, ‘You’ve retired,’ and I like to feel like I graduated,” Walker said. “It feels a little bit younger.”
There is one exception to the Saintsation four year rule. If a woman is selected as a prestigious Pro-Bowl cheerleader, she gets an extra year, which Walker accomplished.
Walker’s journey was not easy, as her first attempt for the Tiger Girls did not go as planned.
“I made it as a sophomore, and I think that made me appreciate it a little bit more because I had to really work for it,” Walker said.
She stayed on for her remaining three years at the university.
Walker recently judged the Tiger Girl auditions, and she said she now realizes how special a dancer must be to be considered.
“The talent gets better and better every year,” Walker said. “Every time I watch I’m like, ‘I wouldn’t make this team this year.’”
Walker said she loved her time with the Tiger Girls and calls it a combination of playing a sport and being in a sorority. The team participated in competitions, sporting events and did promotional and still had what Walker deemed “girl bonding.”
The dancers are forced to hang out multiple times a week during practices and events, and their relationships become essential, Walker said.
“You don’t have much time for a social life, but it’s OK because those are all your friends,” Walker said. “Not being on the team this year, I’ve kind of laughed that I don’t have any friends anymore.”
One of those friends is Maggie DeWitt, a former Tiger Girl, four-year Saintsation and current New Orleans Pelicans dancer. DeWitt and Walker danced together with the Tiger Girls and Saintsations.
“I feel like it made LSU that much more enjoyable,” DeWitt said. “The girls that I met in Tiger Girls, I’m still friends with a lot of them today. Some of them we actually did Saintsations together, and some we’re now on Pelicans together.”
DeWitt said most people don’t know what it’s like to be on a competitive dance team like Tiger Girls or a professional cheerleader like Saintsations, so they don’t understand the level of depth of their relationships.
“When you’re on a competitive dance team, you’re together more than you probably want to be together,” DeWitt said. “Christmas break every year as a Tiger Girl, you spend all of that break with your teammates and not your family because you’re practicing for nationals. So you’re with each other 12 hours a day, and you form bonds with these girls that you really can’t describe or replace.”
Heidey Hanks, a Tiger Girl and former Golden Girl and marketing senior, and Morgan Welsh, a former Golden Girl and Saintsation, know this bond well. Despite living in different cities, the two still talk on a daily basis.
“We’re like best friends,” Welsh said. “We’re still really close. Golden Girls opened a lot of doors for me just as a person helping me grow, but it gave me a lot of strong friendships along the way.”
Hanks met Welsh when the two were Golden Girls together. Welsh said she was initially apprehensive about Hanks.
“My first year on the team, they made us stand by each other,” Welsh said. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m standing by a new girl, got to be on my Ps and Qs.’ Then we ended up becoming the best of friends. I mean, she gave me flowers for my birthday.”
“In both Golden Girls and Tiger Girls, you never get sick of each other,” Hanks said. “We all have the same drive and focus. It’s a sorority in its own way.”
2011 Pro Bowl Saintsation Deri’Andra
FOX10 News | WALA
By Hillary Stepney
April 28, 2015
HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) – Kriste Lewis, 41, has again made the Saintsations cheerleader roster.
Lewis auditioned for the team last year as a fitness goal, and a 40th birthday gift to herself. She immediately garnered national recognition for her accomplishment.
“It was a whirlwind. It went by so fast, and it was such an amazing experience,” said Lewis of her first season with the team. “It brought so much joy to my life, I felt like I just had to do it again.”
Her story became even more inspirational because of her illness. She was diagnosed 15 years ago with polycystic kidney disease; a disease that will eventually require dialysis, a kidney transplant, and currently has no cure.
“I honestly had no idea that anyone would be interested in my story, but just being able to share it with people, I think has really been a blessing for me,” Lewis said. “I was very guilty of not letting people know about my health issues, and this has kind of been able to give me a platform to discuss that and to be a voice for others.”
For the moment, she remains positive and enjoys her many trips with the team and her fellow cheerleaders. There are 36 members on the squad, nine of those members being from the Hattiesburg area.
Although the girl time, pom-poms, and uniforms are fun, Lewis is also a wife and mother of two boys, 12 and 15 years old. She balances her time between the Superdome, and her home with grace.
“The difference between Sunday and Monday is that on Sunday, I’m in the Superdome, there are 80,000 fans, we’re cheering, dancing, signing autographs, taking pictures, and on Monday morning, I’m right back into mom mode,” Lewis said with a laugh. “I’m ironing school uniforms, making school lunches. It’s such a contrast and I love that.”
The Saintsations only allow each member a maximum of four years on the team. Tentatively, Lewis plans to audition next year as well.
“I would love to do it as many times as I can,” said Lewis. “A lot of that will depend on my family situation, right now with our family dynamics it works really well. My boys are old enough to understand and really enjoy what we’re doing. As long as it works with my family, and my health is good, I would love to continue to do it for four years.”
Brandy, Kriste, and Sarah
By JUSTIN MITCHELL
April 15, 2015
The reigning Biloxi Queen of Neptune, an Ocean Springs woman and a Moss Point graduate who made headlines in 2014 have all earned their spot again on the 2015 New Orleans Saintsations dance team.
Brandy Jarvis of Ocean Springs will enter her third season as a Saintsation. A marketing graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi, she was inspired to first tryout by her father, Kevin Jarvis, who has been a Saints season ticket holder for more than 3 decades.
Jarvis was a cheerleader at St. Patrick High School and a member of the USM Dixie Darlings dance team. She was the queen of the 2014 Krewe of Neptune in Biloxi.
Kriste Lewis, a Moss Point High graduate and Hattiesburg resident, made national news headlines in 2014 as becoming one of the NFL’s oldest dance team members. At the time of her 2014 audition, she was 40. She made the squad again this year.
Lewis told the Hattiesburg American last year that she had been battling kidney disease for more than 14 years.
Lewis said last year she was proud to be a Saintsation.
“It goes back to a definition of what a 40-year-old woman could be or should be, and they forget that you can be beautiful and smart,” she said to the Hattiesburg American. “I think my generation especially is redefining (that image).”
Sarah Friday, an Ocean Springs native, was also on the Saintsations in 2014 and made the squad again this year.
The Saintsations released the 2015 lineup on Wednesday.
The members of the 2015-16 New Orleans Saintsations were announced Wednesday afternoon. The group will have 36 members. The squad is divided into a 14 member appearance team and a 22 member field team.
See the rest of the new squad here.
By Annie Hills
Saintsation Kriste was a guest speaker at the Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Foundation’s Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Mo., from Feb. 20-22. There were more than 100 people in attendance; two representatives from each state and some representatives from Canada. Attendees were chapter coordinators and leaders across the country with goals of updating each other on ongoing kidney research and continuing to raise awareness of PKD.
Kriste wants people to know that kidney disease kills more than 90,000 Americans per year, which is more than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined. Kriste, 41, has been diagnosed with PKD for 15 years. After having PKD for 10 years, she believed she was guilty of not spreading awareness of the disease when she still had friends that did not know she was living with PKD. After talking to fellow Saintsations, one of the other Saintsations learned that her grandmother was diagnosed with PKD. Starting the conversation and spreading awareness of the disease are what matter most to Kriste during her involvement with the PKD Foundation.
“It was my first time speaking at anything like that and I was nervous. I spoke for about 30 minutes and told my personal story,” Kriste said. “Once my mom had the disease and had the kidney transplant, that’s when I changed the way I live. I now drink two liters of water per day and it has been shown that drinking a lot of water actually helps.”
Kriste was asked at the leadership conference to emcee during the National Convention in June 2016 in Orlando where there will also be patients, doctors and people looking to help spread awareness about PKD. She has been participating in the PKD Foundation’s 31 Days of PKD Challenges in honor of March’s National Kidney Month. Today Kriste plans to complete the sign “I’m taking the PKD Challenge for _____” and take a selfie with her two sons before posting it on social media.
“At games people who are on dialysis or are donors, come up to me and hug my neck and say, ‘thank you for telling people about it.’ I’m just excited to work with the PKD Foundation. It has been amazing and Kansas City was fun. I also really enjoyed meeting all of the volunteers. In the past, kidney disease has not had a voice. It’s National Kidney Disease Month and nobody knows it, even though it affects many people.”
Kriste hopes that many Saints fans will make it to this year’s New Orleans Walk for PKD on Saturday, May 30. For more information on the walk and to register, please visit here.
By Alex Restrepo
New Orleans Saintsation Taylor said she was stunned when it was announced at last Sunday’s New Orleans Saints game that she would be the team’s cheerleader at the Pro Bowl next month.
“I felt that I had a really good chance of getting picked but I was still nervous about it and shocked when I heard,” said Taylor. “It took five seconds for it to register and I was like “wait…that’s me! (laughter)”
Every NFL team with a cheerleading squad sends one dance team member to represent their team at the league’s all-star game each year.
Taylor, a St. Amant native, is in her fourth year with the Saintsations. Typically, members can only spend a max of four seasons with the squad. As the team’s Pro Bowl representative, she will get a fifth year of eligibility.
“I am thrilled to come back for a fifth year,” said Taylor. “Being on this team has opened my eyes to a lot of things and I have learned a lot. I have met some of my best friends through being a Saintsation and I am grateful for the experience.”
The 2015 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 25 and televised live on ESPN (7 pm CT) from University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, site of Super Bowl XLIX.
The Pro Bowl cheerleaders will practice Monday through Friday leading up the game while working league events each day.
“I am looking forward to making memories that will last a lifetime and meeting other cheerleaders around the league,” said Taylor. “I have never been to Arizona so this will be my first time and I only hear great things about visiting there!”
[Taylor at the Saints website]
by Kenny Lopez
You might have heard about this Saintsation cheerleaders. Her name’s Kriste Lewis and she’s making headlines. At 40 years old, she’s the oldest Saintsation to ever make the squad.
“I am 40. I think I look 40, and I’m proud of that. I am the most senior Saintsation and the oldest to ever audition,” she said.
Lewis is proving pom-pom shaking doesn’t have an age limit.
“Go for it. Don’t let age hold you back. Don’t let feeling like your past your prime, stop you. If something is bothering you or maybe you have an illness. Don’t let it hold you back from going after you want.”
She’s found joy in the whole process and enjoys dance training again.
“I’m doing dance moves that I haven’t done since I was a little girl,” she said.
As a little girl she always wanted to be an NFL cheerleader. It wasn’t until her 40th birthday came along that she decided to mark the milestone by trying out.
“You got to remember what you enjoyed as a child. As adults we get stuck in our everyday grind and we forget what gave us joy as a child. Usually whatever gives you joy as a child, it will give you joy as an adult,” Lewis said.
Dancing obviously brings her joy, but sod does being a wife to her husband, Tim and a mom to her two sons, 14-year old, Jake and 11-year old, Rob.
“That’s my mom. It’s unbelievable,” Jake said.
“Some of my friends are like, your mom is an NFL cheerleader, and I’m like, yes, she is,” Rob said.
Living in the moment is important to Kriste, especially because she knows in 10 years, she’ll face a health challenge.
“I have polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. It just means cysts grow on my kidneys. Around age 50, my kidneys will lose function and they’ll shut down. I’ll need dialysis and a transplant. I don’t want to waste any time. I want to make memories. That is what this whole experience has been all about,” Lewis said.
Since becoming a Saintsation, she’s been making memories with the other “saintsational” ladies on the team. They respect her and feel age really is just a number.
Saintsation Becca said, “I’m 21 and I think it takes charisma to be a Saintsation, at any age.”
Saintsation Alixx said, “I’m 19 and I think it takes educated and sassy to be a Saintsation, at any age.”
When you see Kriste at the games cheering on Drew Brees and the boys, you’ll most likely be amazed because she really doesn’t look 40.
“I’m a lady. Of course, I love a compliment like that. That makes me feel good,” she said.
Kriste lives in Hattisburg, Mississippi, where she is a dance instructor.
By Sam Tabachnik
As the New Orleans Saints ramp up for the start of the new season, the team’s official cheerleading squad prepares to turn heads with the unveiling of the 2014-15 New Orleans Saintsations Swimsuit Calendar.
The Grand Ballroom at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon St., will be transformed into a Who Dat extravaganza for the calendar release gala on Monday, Aug. 11, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Fox Sports NFL sideline reporter Jennifer Hale will serve as the event’s emcee, and other special guests are expected. Tickets are $40, with a limited number available to the public.
Proceeds from the gala are earmarked for the 4th Annual “Spirit Award,” a scholarship fund that was established by Lesslee Fitzmorris, president of St. All-Star and manager of the Saintsations, and Alfred L. Groos, president and general manager of the Royal Sonesta.
Kriste LewisView full sizeKriste Lewis, one of only two NFL cheerleaders in their 40s, fulfilled a lifelong dream when she earned a spot among the Saintsations for the 2014-15 season.Bill Haber / The Associated Press
The scholarship fund benefits aspiring high school seniors who wish to pursue dance team or cheerleading at the collegiate level and beyond. Last year’s scholarship winner, Macie Coker from Dominican High School, will be present at this year’s event.
New to the Saintsations squad this year is 40-year-old Kriste Lewis of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Lewis, a longtime dance instructor and mother of two, was diagnosed with kidney disease 14 years ago. After receiving her diagnosis, Lewis made it her mission to live life to the fullest and not wait to realize her lifelong dreams.
A passionate Saints fan since childhood, Lewis said trying out for the Saintsations was always on her bucket list.
To reserve tickets to the calendar release gala, contact Shari Appel of the Royal Sonesta at 504.553.2221 or email her at email@example.com.
Our cavalcade of All Stars continues with a lass from down New Orleans way. For the past two years, the Saintsations have brought a couple of girls to P-R-O and this year was no exception. With a Drew Brees led team on the field and the Saintsations on the sidelines, the people of Louisiana are truly blessed. So without further ado, introducing Saintsation Taylor, our next 2014 P-R-O Convention All Star.
Our parade moves on…stay tuned to see who is our next P-R-O Convention All Star.
Emily Ham Price
July 11, 2014
A passion for dancing and a desire to celebrate her 40th birthday in a monumental way were two things that led Kriste Lewis to the New Orleans Saints’ practice facility for a life-changing experience.
Standing before a panel of judges, Lewis combated her nerves by remembering her husband’s motto — “focus and fun” — as she tried out for the New Orleans Saintsations in April.
After six months of dance, fitness training and the love and support of her family and friends, Lewis said she prepared herself to mark a life experience off her bucket list.
“For me, trying out for the Saintsations was something I always wanted to do,” she said. “It was on my bucket list. I grew up on the coast and was a Saints fan all my life. … I went into (the tryout) with the idea that the audition would be a celebration.”
Saintsations Director Lesslee Fitzmorris said Lewis’ attitude and training paid off.
“When she needed to blend with the others, she did, and when she needed to stand out, she did,” Fitzmorris said. “For example, the first audition was a dance audition. None of the judges knew her age and judged her strictly on her presentation and dance ability. The second phase of the audition process was the professional interview. It was during this phase that Kriste stood out. In the final selection process, it was a unanimous decision to put her on the team.”
Serving her church and community as a dance fitness instructor, the mother of two said she never expected to be reacquainted with a part of herself she’d lost when she began training to try out for the NFL cheerleading team.
“I had honestly forgotten how much I loved to dance,” she said. “When you’re an instructor and you’re in that situation, you’re really dancing for who is in your class. You’re leading them in exercise. It’s not just for you. … I told my husband, ‘Please remind me after this audition to not stop dancing.’ ”
Lewis doesn’t just dance now because she loves it — it helps maintain her health.
Lewis, whose family has a history of kidney issues, was diagnosed with kidney disease 14 years ago. After watching her mother’s body reject a transplanted kidney twice, Lewis said she made the decision to live a healthy lifestyle as well as make the most of each day.
“Today is the day, not tomorrow,” she said. “Wear your best shoes. Don’t save that bottle of wine. Why are you hoarding that from yourself? … I know there is no cure for (my kidney disease,) and I know that I will be on dialysis and in need of a transplant, but I could be killed in a car wreck tomorrow. … I think too many times we wait too late to start on our bucket lists. Start it while you feel good and can enjoy it.”
Fitzmorris said after surviving bacterial meningitis, she understands Lewis’ “time is precious” outlook, and said she believes Lewis’ story will inspire a wide range of people.
“I know that she will inspire others to overcome adversity, never give up and send the message to go for your dreams and anything is possible,” she said. “This message should serve as a reminder to everyone that you only live once, so start checking off your life’s bucket list.”
As one of the 36 talented women who make up this year’s Saintsations team, Lewis said she’s had a fantastic time getting to know each of her teammates.
Lewis is joined by fellow Pine Belt residents Summer Rials, Sara Friday, Sara Bass and Lee Armstrong.
“It’s a family,” Lewis said. “It’s like I have 35 little sisters. They are such sweet girls. … All of the girls are so intelligent and they are so kind and well-rounded.
Fitzmorris said with Lewis’ background and life experience, she wasn’t sure how this year’s team would relate to one another.
“At our first meeting, it was immediately apparent that everyone on the team had respect for each other and appreciated the different perspectives and the team’s diversity,” she said. “The younger ones look up to the older ones for life advice on school, careers and relationships and the older ones look up to the younger ones for advice and tips on the latest trends and to not take things too seriously.”
Having spent time as an English teacher, dance instructor and stay-at-home mother, Lewis said she hopes her personal story shows the world that a woman can be anything she aspires to be at any age.
“It goes back to a definition of what a 40-year-old woman could be or should be, and they forget that you can be beautiful and smart,” she said. “Just because you don’t work doesn’t mean you can’t be a doctor or lawyer. I think my generation especially is redefining (that image.)”
Lewis’ mission to redefine what a woman is and can be falls in line with the Saintsation’s mission to reach out to the community and young girls.
“Our program encompasses more than just dance and cheer,” she said. “My emphasis is team building and teaching young women how to represent in a positive manner. We do a lot of community work and work with children. We understand that we serve as role models for young girls.”
As the Saintsations begin their community involvement, and as football season approaches, Lewis said she is getting more and more excited to cheer for her favorite team.
Lewis said she fully intends to soak up all the wonderful experiences this year has to offer, and is looking forward to trying out again in the years to come.
“I can’t even fathom what it’s going to be like to walk out on that field in the Superdome with all those Saints fans,” she said. “I hope I don’t pass out. … If I died tomorrow, I’m good. I’m a happy girl. It’s been a blast.”
At a glance
Family: Husband, Tim Lewis, sons, Jake, 14, and Rob, 11
Education: University of West Alabama
Profession: NFL cheerleader/dance exercise instructor