Karen May Healey hadn’t waved a pom pom in close to 25 years.
But on Saturday, Oct. 14, the Paul Kane High English teacher grabbed a cluster of streamers, one in each hand, and danced at the Edmonton Eskimos’ annual Pink Game, a celebration in support of cancer survivors.
Five other St. Albert cheerleading veterans joined the 100-strong alumni squad at Commonwealth Stadium. They are Michelle Pendry, Tammy Bremault, Carla Stanley, Jennifer Guzak and Stacey Shuler-Abdella.
As the squad danced to a routine designed to salute survival, courage and living life, cancer survivors carrying two 200-foot long pink ribbons marched to Brett Kissel’s anthem, I Didn’t Fall in Love With Your Hair, a song dedicated to his mother.
“There were so many emotions. The girls and I hadn’t seen each other in so long and we just started bonding again. To see cancer survivors carry out huge pink ribbons and sing was just so emotional. Just being out there in the field and being part of something bigger was so great,” said May Healey.
The veteran cheerleader joined the Esks’ 1989-90 season as a new coach and choreographer hired to create a fresh look. At the time, she was on the University of Alberta cheer squad and coached the Paul Kane High and Harry Ainley High’s teams.
To institute the new athletic image, May Healey insisted on having complete control over uniform selection.
“Previously cheerleaders wore high-heeled boots and were limited to dance moves. This was to be more of a stunt team, an elite level college team with 30 cheerleaders,”said May Healey.
“We were athletes with different demands and we wanted to squash it into something more athletic.”
Uniforms for the co-ed program were white vests, thigh-high skirts and sneakers for women and pants for men. The more casual outfits allowed for ease of movement during the jaw-dropping basket toss, partner stunts, pyramid builds and rotating aerial flips.
May Healey’s appointment with the professional football team attracted eager cheerleaders from Paul Kane eager to improve their athletic ability and perform for stadium crowds that reached a 56,000-seat capacity.
And football fans roared their approval.
“People were excited. The music was upbeat and the aerial stunts spectacular. Everyone knew how to move. It was very precise. The kids had very dynamic personalities. It was a great combination of high energy and impressive elite athleticism.”
That season, the cheer squad worked hard to get fans on their feet.
“We brought in the idea of signs to get people excited. We had signs and did stunts with a mascot. And we went into the stands and did stunts with kids. It was all part of the fun and it was a great connection to the crowds.”
Fast forward to today. Eskimos cheer team head coach Dianne Greenough invited alumni to contribute their talents to the PInk Game. Although the entire Esk cheer family keeps in touch through Facebook, busy lives prevented the St. Albert cohorts from previously reprising their roles.
“The whole Edmonton Eskimo group really embraces an opportunity to connect with alumni. This is a way to enjoy a very positive experience.”
On the personal side, May Healey’s son is now on the Paul Kane cheer squad.
Laughing she said, “I surprised myself that I could still do the moves. But it was nice to show my son I still got it.”