Chris Sullivan Polito was with the Buffalo Jills from 1971 to 1985 as a cheerleader and cheerleading director. Today she’s chairwoman of the board of directors for the Buffalo Jills Alumni Association, a group of former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders that formed in 2007.
Polito, who recently attended a national reunion for alumnae cheerleaders in Atlanta, is helping to organize a similar event here in August 2016.
At age 67, Polito prides herself on being a “go-to grandma” for 12 grandchildren who range in age from 2 to 14. She and her husband, David, live in Lake View.
People Talk: What’s an NFL cheerleaders reunion like?
Chris Polito: It is fun. You go back to being whatever age you were when you cheered. The reunion was hosted by the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders Alumni Association. Twenty-four NFL teams were represented. This was only the second NFL cheerleader reunion ever. The first had cheerleaders from 11 teams show up. We had the biggest group from Buffalo: 24. The Redskins had 23. The Bears had one. Pittsburgh had cheerleaders for a short time and six girls showed up.
PT: Was there a buzz at the reunion about the Jills being sidelined this year?
CP: There were a lot of people who weren’t even aware of it. When the Bills first started they used the Buffalo State College cheerleaders. Personally, I do not think the Bills will suffer at all this year. The game is football and the cheerleaders are part of the color and pageantry.
PT: Why don’t the alumni step in and cheer?
CP: Wouldn’t that be funny? I think it would work. I know it would be entertaining. I think we could field some kick-butt girls. Our alumni association would probably grow from 50 active members to 400, a lot of them still young.
PT: Will cheerleading always be a part of you?
CP: Before the alumni formed I really had no cheerleading connection other than a local reunion every five years. If I went to a Bills game, the cheerleaders were still my focus. It’s changed so much – the quality – but I love to watch the dancing.
PT: How has cheerleading changed?
CP: I came in the fifth year of the Buffalo Jills – it was kind of provincial. Trying to get Mr. Wilson to understand the concept of cheerleaders was a challenge. For the first eight years I was on the squad, cheerleaders had to be married, living with their husband and be between the ages of 22 and 32. We were classic gymnastic cheerleaders, but when the Bills saw the PR potential of something like the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, the age limit was lowered to 18 and cheerleaders could be single.
PT: What were the reactions socially when people found out you were a cheerleader?
CP: It was a 50 percent negative response. I don’t even care what the preconceived notion was, it was the wrong one. It’s certainly nothing I would ever brag about, but I am proud of being a cheerleader.
PT: Are you employed?
CP: I work out of my home for Laser Solutions. Its main use is in pain management, but my main thing is to work with addictive behaviors. Number one is smoking. Laser treatment is very effective in blocking the craving. We also do weight.
PT: Would you have taken part in a fair-wage lawsuit?
CP: Absolutely not, no. I fully support the fact that girls should be fully compensated for their time. I think their uniforms should be paid for. Now it costs them $700, but to go back and try to get paid for something that you had no reasonable expectation of getting paid for? Everyone who signed up signed off on the fact that they were volunteers. That I find personally ridiculous.
And on top of everything else, I was told they were going to get paid this year.
PT: How much should cheerleaders be paid?
CP: Some cheerleaders at the reunion said they were paid $100 a game.
PT: Were you ever injured as a cheerleader?
CP: Yes. One time I did a jump and ended up in the emergency room the next day with back spasms but I finished the game. I think that’s why I have herniated disks and awful knees. Some types of jumps destroy your knees. My daughter was a gymnastic cheerleader and she’s had both shoulders operated and her knee.
PT: Who would you like to see as the next owner of the team?
CP: There’s no real bad choice. Donald Trump would probably have a 115-cheerleader squad that he would personally screen, and that’s OK with me. I wish Terry Pegula would buy this team. He would know what to do with an asset like the Jills.