On a night when Dwight Howard would rattle the backboard with emphatic dunks, and the end of the Magic-Jazz game would come down to the final seconds, the loudest, most spontaneous, deafening crowd reaction of the night at Orlando’s new Amway Center was during the first quarter. The Magic and Jazz weren’t on the court, as they were over at their respective benches during a time out. The focus of the crowd’s attention was group of performers a little bit older than the players, but the homestretch of their routine created a reaction from the fans so voluminous, it would have scared away an approaching hurricane.
Four hours earlier, in an empty arena, things were much quieter. In mid-afternoon on November 10th, the Silver Stars of the Orlando Magic, were on the shiny, pristine NBA court, rehearsing for their performance that night. The Silver Stars are a squad that performs at the Magic games, and are comprised of local men and women who have put their day jobs behind them and are enjoying retirement in central Florida. Initially, down to the south on the turnpike in Miami, the Heat first introduced a squad of retirees to perform during their NBA games. Certainly it was a natural to have a senior squad in central Florida, too, and Orlando Magic Dancers Manager Jeanine Klem-Thomas formed the Magic’s Silver Stars in 2005. The Silver Stars all reside in the same retirement community. Jeanine says, “The Villages of Lady Lake is one of the largest and most prominent retirement communities in the United States with residents from across the country. We reached out to them as it seemed like a perfect fit and location to find members for the team!”
I wondered if the Silver Stars squad was formed with a few volunteers or if there were try-outs. But, seemingly like all dance squads, it was quite a feat to make the squad. Mary, one of the Silver Stars Team Leaders, told me they all went through auditions, and said, “It was harrowing! A lot of people wouldn’t even try it because they were so intimidated.”
This is the Silver Star’s sixth season, and many of the current squad were there for the first performance in 2005. When asked if getting on the court that first time was nerve-wracking, Mary said, “When we came off the floor the first time, we were jumping up and down and screaming!” Rose and Margaret both chimed in, laughing, “What do you mean the first time?!” Linda echoed about those times on the court, “The first time, it is just a rush, you’re standing there and looking up there, and you’re thinking, ooohh, what am I doing here?!,” remembering being in front of tens of thousands of fans.
The Silver Stars know of other NBA senior squads in Miami and New Jersey, and I suggested maybe we need to have a tournament among them. “We would win!,” laughed Jean. They asked me if I knew of any NFL teams with senior squads, and I thought there were not, perhaps because fans would be so far away, it would be difficult to get the same effect. This reminded Jean of something her husband told her, that despite most fans sitting a bit far to see the squad, “My husband said, ‘You know, they put you on the big screen, so they know you are old.'” But the rest of the Silver Stars chimed in, responding, “But WE don’t know we’re old!” Mary added, “You know who also loves this? Our husbands, they love it.”
The Silver Stars are scheduled to perform six times a year, but their season continues with the playoffs. Mary recalls, “One year we did nine because they were in the playoffs and went all the way to the Finals. It was fun, we performed during the Finals, and we hope to do that again this year!” I wondered where they spent the rest of the game after they performed, and the Silver Stars pointed up to the seats in the upper levels, but the city-wide excitement of the new arena echoed, as Mary added, “But every seat here is good.”
During the afternoon practice, Jeanine watched and provided comments as the Silver Stars went through their game night routine. The Silver Stars, like the Magic Dancers, wear badges with their names and hometowns. I noticed that Paula, like me, is originally from Chicago (and also a fellow south-sider, at that). Paula filled me in on the schedule leading up to game night. Jeanine held the initial practice at their community two weeks before the game. On their own, the Silver Stars practiced every day, until Jeanine returned a week later to complete blocking the routine. Then the Silver Stars again practiced every day on their own until game day. As UltimateCheerleaders.com likes to keep track of twins, I also noticed Rose and Margaret, who, I have a feeling, have heard the question, “Are you identical twins?” once or twice before.
Jeanine worked with the squad during the afternoon practice for some final tips. For instance, the two male performers, Armando and Stanley, played key roles in the routine. For instance, Stanley had to lip sync the intro of the last of the three songs in the medley, while emphatically gesturing at the same time. Jeanine encouraged him to make it bigger, as it would be challenging for even Robert DeNiro to emote enough to make it work in front of almost twenty thousand fans. After the rehearsals of the routine, the Silver Stars also practiced running onto the court when introduced. To me, they were as cool as cucumbers, and enjoying every second of the moment, in a way that maybe only the perspective of life experience allows. The Silver Stars practice ended, and they relaxed along the arena’s front row as the Magic Dancers took the court for their pre-practice stretching. Some of the Magic Dancers’ ability to hyper extend during warm-ups sent some “oohs!” through the Silver Stars.
The afternoon transitioned to game time, and in a tunnel leading to the locker rooms, the Silver Stars waited for their first quarter appearance during the first time out. The Silver Stars wore embellished cruisewear, with Armando and Stanley looking like dapper captains, for a performance with a nautical theme. Seemingly very quickly, it was time for the Silver Stars, and they efficiently lined up for their run onto the court.
The cruise line medley of songs began with the Silver Stars performing to the familiar theme to “The Love Boat” (paraphrased audience reaction: “Aww, that is sweet”), then transitions to “Rock the Boat” (audience reaction: “Ooh, they are getting down, old school”), then transitions into The Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat.” Audience reaction to the behind slapping, keeping it real Silver Stars: a jet engine roar of approval. The Silver Stars hit their final marks, to the applause of the Amway Center. The adrenaline flowed as they exited, ready to enjoy the rest of the game, and to look forward to next month’s performance. I guess when the Silver Stars were introduced to the song medley, some were a bit, let’s say, “surprised” by the official lyrics to “I’m on a Boat,” but the family friendly version that was used at the game was quite enough for the crowd to get the point.
It was a pleasure to meet the Silver Stars and see their preparation and performance. One can tell they enjoy every single step of the process. Everyone at every age should get a chance to live out dreams, but also with the perspective to appreciate the experience’s every nuance. Mary was telling me, while absolutely glowing, “This is something I always wanted to do. I was not a cheerleader in high school, in college, none of that. Now I finally get to do it.” I asked other Silver Stars if they had been part of previous cheerleading squads and most had not been, although Jean had. So I guess some teen dreams can come true, to which Mary responded, “And what a perfect time!”
I suppose in the land of Disney magic, anything can happen. So, to update local celebrity Jiminy Cricket’s song, “When you are a Silver Star, your dreams come true.”