Richelle Grant’s One Day at a Time Attitude Leads to a Memorable TopCats Decade

Richelle Grant, Coordinator/Choreographer of the TopCats

Richelle Grant, Coordinator/Choreographer of the TopCats, on a cool November 7th Panthers game day

Especially during the NFL season, the time of the members and management of the cheerleading squads is so very precious.  So when I asked Richelle Grant, the Coordinator and Choreographer of the TopCats (the cheerleaders for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers), if she would answer some questions for UltimateCheerleaders.com, I definitely wanted her to respond at her own convenience.  But Richelle actually asked me to give her a deadline, responding, “I’m journalism major, so working in a news station environment has made me that way.”  Richelle could not have been nicer, and you can tell her attention to detail have served her well in her TopCats career.

Richelle is in her tenth season of varying roles with the TopCats, starting as a member of the squad, and eventually becoming part of the squad’s management.  Read on to learn about Richelle, while also featuring photos of some of her squad and their captains.  Richelle filled us in on her TopCats career, including being part of a Super Bowl team, and answers the eternal, burning question, “Does the top cat of the TopCats have a pet cat?”

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UC.com: Tell me about your life’s journey from New York to Charlotte?

Richelle: I was born in Queens, New York and my family moved down South when I was two years old. I was raised in Columbia, South Carolina, and moved to Charlotte shortly after graduating from college. I don’t have many memories of New York City, except for during the summer months when I would visit my grandparents. My grandfather would walk me and my brothers to the pizza parlor every Friday. And I remember clearly the huge slices of cheese pizza that I had to hold with two hands, and the grease running down my arm. When I visited New York last spring, I had to relive that experience.

UC.com: Tell me about your cheerleading/dance path to NFL choreographer?

Richelle: I became interested in dance when I was eight years old. My path began as a cheerleader for my brother’s Pop Warner football team. From there, I began taking dance classes. Once I started high school, I became heavily involved in cheerleading and competitions.

UC.com: I understand you were on the sidelines when you attended the University of South Carolina; were you on the cheer squad or the dance squad?

Richelle: In 1999, I was on the JV Cheerleading squad at the University of South Carolina. I cheered one season with the Gamecocks. It was a memorable experience, especially when the cheerleaders and marching band would form the tunnel for the team to run out to the dramatic “2001”entrance. Having the involvement of the student body and fans always made our game days electrifying!

South Carolina's homecoming game when Richelle (lower left) was on the sidelines

South Carolina's homecoming game when Richelle (lower left) was on the sidelines

UC.com: What did you study at USC, and what are your favorite memories from college days?

Richelle: I studied Journalism and Mass Communications at USC. Aside from game days at Williams-Brice Stadium, my favorite memories are those from my senior semester of college. The journalism students did a daily newscast which aired on campus. Each morning we researched newspapers and the AP news wire to find stories and report on them. This included shooting the story, interviewing people and editing packages. This type of “hands on” training was beneficial in preparing me for the next step after graduation.

UC.com: I would think it would be an easier transition from college dance squad to NFL squad than from a college cheer squad.  Does it matter what previous experience a potential NFL cheerleader has?

Richelle: My transition from a college cheer squad to the NFL was very smooth. Prior dance experience is helpful, but it’s not necessarily needed in order to try-out for the NFL. Many of the TopCats have different dance backgrounds. Some danced from the time they were three years old, and some had no dance training. In my opinion, whether you have a strong dance background or not, the best way to prepare to be an NFL Cheerleader is to do your homework. Study the organization that you are trying out for, take dance classes so that you can train your mind and body to learn and retain choreography, and lastly, but most importantly, maintain a healthy workout regime. A person should be at their best, physically, when auditioning. Not only does it show on the outside, but the judges see it on the inside as well.

UC.com: When you tried out the first time to be a Panthers cheerleader, did you make it?

Richelle: Yes. I was fortunate to make the Panthers cheerleading squad the first time I tried out. I had always dreamed about being a cheerleader for the NFL, so this was a very important goal of mine. My second year at the University of South Carolina, I didn’t make the cheerleading squad so that prompted me to audition for the Carolina Panthers. At the time, I was a full time student, and I lived in Columbia. Like a 19 year old, I didn’t map anything out nor did I try to figure out how I was going to commute back and forth from Columbia to Charlotte. All that I knew was that I loved football, I wanted to dance, and I was determined to be on someone’s roster. My family supported me in my decision, providing my grades did not suffer, so that was enough for me.  I’m a “one day at a time” type of girl when it comes to my career. I never imagined being with the Panthers for ten years. I fell in love with this organization and their family-oriented values from day one. My teammates were not just teammates, but they were my family. Because I joined the Panthers at a young age, I grew up with this organization, and my experiences have shaped me into the person I am today.

UC.com: What are your most memorable moments as part of the TopCats?

Richelle: There are too many to list, but the one experience that I  could relive over and over again would be going to the Super Bowl! The fans, the team and the community were at an ultimate high! You anticipate the experience and imagine what it will be like, but until you’re actually living it, it doesn’t come close to your imagination!

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UC.com: When did you first think about choreography and in the management side of the squad? Are there role models who you find yourself emulating?

Richelle: I first thought about the management side of the squad when the director, Leslie Matz retired in 2004. At that time I wanted to relocate to Charlotte and I was working part time as an associate producer for a news station. When the TopCats Assistant position became available, I immediately applied. The timing of everything was quite interesting, because not only was I applying for the position to be an assistant, but auditions were being conducted as well. It’s physically impossible for someone to hold both jobs simultaneously, so I went after both, hoping that I would land one of them!  I don’t have one particular role model that I try to emulate. But I will say that I admire and have respect for all dancers who have a tremendous work ethic and attempt each and every day to master the skill of dance.

UC.com: What sends bursts of joy through an NFL choreographer?

Richelle: Seeing the ladies nail a routine with confidence! It’s so rewarding when the squad is not only working together, but when their working diligently to learn the choreography and formations. Confidence is key. And when I see their confidence exude just as much as their knowledge of the routine, I’m like a proud parent!

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UC.com: What do you like to do when you are not working?

Richelle: When I’m not working I enjoy traveling with my family and friends. Recently, I traveled to New York to tour the Alvin Ailey Dance School and I took dance classes through their Alvin Ailey Extension program. Having the experience of learning new choreography and different styles of dance was rewarding, and it inspires me in my choreography.

UC.com: What are your favorite things about Charlotte?

Richelle: Charlotte is the absolute best! I love the people because they’re so hospitable, and I love the weather because we experience every season, so there’s always a reason to shop (laughs). And most importantly, I love the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers embrace both Carolinas and that means a lot to me. Being raised in South Carolina, I have so much history there, so when the Panthers visit South Carolina it’s neat to see familiar faces who are also Panthers fans. I admire how the organization has brought both states together in that way.

UC.com: What do you try to bring to the squad that is unique to the TopCats choreography? What are your goals for the future of the squad?

Richelle: As a choreographer, I believe in keeping it fresh; meaning fresh music and fresh choreography. My goal is to challenge the TopCats weekly so that I can showcase their talents and give the fans an exciting show. From a fans perspective, I feel it’s important to have visual performances on the field. This includes constant, eye catching movements and formations and high kicks are a must! My goals for the future squad is to continue to have a positive presence in the community,  and to maintain our sisterhood in the locker room.  The talented ladies that come out each year, continue to set the bar high, and it makes me proud to see ladies striving to be great at their skill.

T'fani shows the signature explosive kicks of the TopCats

T'fani shows the signature explosive kicks of the TopCats

UC.com: What would surprise people most about your day to day role with the Panthers?  Any “unique” appearance requests?

Richelle: In addition to being a choreographer, I also coordinate appearances for the TopCats.  The TopCats make countless appearances in the communities, both corporate and charitable. It’s important for them to have a positive presence in schools, hospitals and with non-profit organizations. Our most recent “unique” appearance request took place last February. Members of the TopCats squad were asked to travel to Mexico for a week to promote the Super Bowl XLIV. One group traveled to Monterrey and the other to Mexico City. This experience proved that American football is universal. Seeing everyone in their favorite team’s jerseys showed us how this sport is growing worldwide. We also saw some Panthers jerseys, which brought smiles to our faces.

Richelle during warmer days on the sidelines

UC.com: This season has been challenging on the field for the Panthers.  In some ways, one might think that would not affect the TopCats, but does it also weigh on the squad?

Richelle: We all want to see our team do well, and although this season has been challenging, the TopCats remain positive and upbeat. It’s our goal to keep the energy level high in the stadium at each and every game. The TopCats and fan interactions couldn’t be better.

UC.com: Do you have a cat?

Richelle: (laughs) Unfortunately, I have no cats. Our mascot Sir Purr would be too jealous!

No one likes a jealous mascot, Sir Purr!

No one likes a jealous mascot, Sir Purr!

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Those mascots, always finding ways to get into your business!
Thanks so much to Richelle for spending some of her precious time to participate in this interview!  When I asked Richelle during the fourth quarter of the November 7th Panthers game against the Saints if I could snap a photo for this report, as is her nature, she graciously agreed.  As I sat back into my seat, the Saints fan to my left turned to me and said, “She is a very attractive woman.”  Yes sir, and you have just scratched the surface of the depth of this very successful member of the Panthers organization.

And now, for some reason, I could really go for a big slice of pizza oozing with cheese….
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Kelli is captain of Richelle's Gray line, and the squad veteran in her sixth season

Kelli is captain of Richelle's Gray line, and the squad veteran in her sixth season

Stacey captains one of Richelle's lines

Stacey captains one of Richelle's lines

Dana captains Richelle's Blue line

Dana captains Richelle's Blue line

Tara R, in her fifth season, also is one of Richelle's captains

Tara R, in her fifth season, also is one of Richelle's captains

7 comments to Richelle Grant’s One Day at a Time Attitude Leads to a Memorable TopCats Decade

  • W.C. grant

    I enjoyed reading the interview of Richelle Grant. I am very proud to have her as my baby and daughter.

  • Leslie Matz

    I had the honor of serving as Richelle’s director when she was on the TopCats squad. She represented us well at all times – graciously, with passion and professionalism. This article captures Richelle in her true light – a beautiful lady inside and out. Bravo to Richelle and also to the writer of the article!

  • topcats

    We’re so proud of you Richelle! We all love you! You make such a difference leading us day in and day out! Once a TopCat (regardless our record) always a TopCat!

  • Kelly Randazzo

    Way to go Richelle!!!!! We’re so proud of you!!!!

  • C.T. Williams

    This was an awesome article.Im glad that she is my best friend.Richelle has a bright future.

  • Melia

    I’ve watched you become that gorgeous sunflower – keep shining and blooming! Woo Hoo. Love ya chica!

  • Erin Follett

    This is a wonderful article. Richelle truly is an amazing presence in the TopCat locker room and a natural leader. Way to go, Richelle!