Interview by Larissa Chelius, Zoe D’Angelo and Delila Matara Photography by Philadelphia Eagles Photographers Pennsylvania
What cheer/dance experience did you have before becoming a Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader, and who was your biggest influencer? My career as a dancer began when I was 5 years old, at Kelly Richards School of Dance. I was a part of the KRSD competition from 4th grade through my senior year of high school. I also have been a cheerleader since the age of 5, when I started off cheering for the Warrington Warriors. I then went on to cheer competitively for my middle and high school teams. One of my dance teachers, whose name is also Jill, was a former Eagles Cheerleader. At a young age, I admired her accomplishment, it seemed like the ultimate dance goal. You can say that becoming an Eagles cheerleader has been a life-long goal of mine.
What's life like once you make the team? Eventful and exciting! After the audition season, practices start right away in the summer. We learn a lot of dance technique and combinations. We also have the opportunity to participate in international outreach as a squad. In my years on the team, we have traveled to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, visiting and donating to orphanages in need. We also partnered with ‘Waves for Water’ to provide programs and technology to villages that did not have access to clean drinking water. In season, we practice twice a week for 3 hours in the evening. Practices consist of learning a variety of choreography that is performed in front of 60,000+ fans at home games. We all put in many hours outside of practice, rehearsing and perfecting routines. At practice, we learn dances at a fast pace and it is necessary to rehearse before returning to practice the following week. I often get together with my teammates at the gym to practice. We also perform at local appearances, where we can spread eagles spirit to fans who may not get to be a part of the game day excitement. Additionally, we sign up to appear at events around the area. They vary from charitable fundraisers, to local pep rallies, away game watch parties, appearances at schools in the region, or even a visit to Dunkin’ Donuts, one of our sponsors. We also have the opportunity to be role models for younger girls who attend the Junior Cheer Clinics throughout the season. Not only do we teach the girls how to perform like Eagles cheerleaders, but also how to be confident individuals and work as a team.
What's a typical game day like? We report to the stadium 4 hours before kickoff. We practice on the field before, as well as in a studio that is connected to the Lincoln Finical Field. During games, we are broken up into 4 squads that are placed in each corner of the sidelines. We rotate each quarter, so we get to see all the fans! We perform our pregame show, center stage, before the team is announced and then in the end zones for the first and third breaks.
Do you ever get nervous being in front of all those people? Yes and no. There's always a feeling of nervous excitement, but I practice so much that I don’t have to think about it, and that is what makes it fun. When I’m out there doing my routines with my cheer family, I can just forget everything else that is happening. Four quarters fly by in no time and you are left feeling great, especially when we win.
What was it like cheering at Super Bowl? Everything was unforgettable! When we travel, we get so connected with the ladies on our team. We bond so much. I’ll look back and remember who I cheered with because cheering with them is like being with a second family. When we returned to Philadelphia, everything felt different! Everyone was a little more pleasant and happier in Philly. Everyone felt like a winner, like they were part of the championship. We could feel the excitement all throughout the city!
How was the parade? It was a day that was overwhelming with excitement! The route was full of people who couldn’t control their emotions because they were so happy. I saw numerous fans crying! The crowd was covered in green! I felt so blessed to be a part of it all because there were so many cheerleaders and loyal fans who cheered for the Eagles (52 years before) but only 36 women can say they’re a Super Bowl Champion Eagles Cheerleader.
What was it like getting to go to London? London was ‘brilliant!’ 8 of us were selected, by seniority, to represent the squad in London. (It's my 3rd year on the team). We got to travel to the UK early and explore some historic and beautiful landmarks, like tour the Kensington Palace and the London Eye. At the Buckingham Palace, we got to watch the Changing of the Guards. We had the Eagles Photographer with us for part of the time, so we got some great pictures too! I love to scrapbook and I am excited to add these memories to the book.
Do you have a job other than being an Eagles Cheerleader? Yes! I am an English teacher for 7th and 8th grade students in Philadelphia. I always knew I wanted to teach Middle School. This is the time that students really find themselves and need a strong mentor to look up to. I think that who you become in middle school determines how you are in high school. The interactions and learning experiences that happen in three years of middle school shape a student’s outlook on education.
Is it hard to balance being an Eagles cheerleader and your role as a Middle School Teacher? It can be difficult because outside of school hours, I also plan lessons and grade assignments. Being an English teacher, I grade a lot of written papers, which I love, but is time consuming. I am still learning how to best manage my time, this is something that started in my childhood because of dance, cheer, and everything else I was involved in. I feel that I am already well trained on managing my time wisely. I also coach my school's cheer team, so I really do put a lot of ‘cheer’ on my plate. Every woman on the team has a demanding career, so everyone is on the same boat and we can all relate to each other.
What advice do you have for teens who are thinking about trying out to be an NFL cheerleader? Go for it! You do not have anything to lose. If you can, find a friend who is also interested and go through the process together. This way, you can practice together and cheer each other on. The open call audition is a unique experience and will teach you how to perform under pressure and step outside of your comfort zone. You never know, you might just make it all the way to finals like I did.
What's your favorite quote? “Don’t wait for the storm to pass, learn to dance in the rain.” I feel like there is never going be a perfect day, especially as a teacher, there’s always something that is going to cause stress or anxiety. Once I get to the dance studio and start the warm-up, all of that fades away. Once I’m in that space, in that moment, I can just dance and feel rejuvenated.
Jillian was published in Issue 15 of Inspiring Teens Magazine.
A behind the scenes look at the interview with Jillian at the Philadelphia art museum in between games. From left to right: Zoe D'Angelo, Delila Matara, Larissa Chelius, and Jillian Darrah