Out of 60 finalists competing at the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders final audition in April 2016, Jillian Darrah was one of 35 hopefuls whose dream of becoming a Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader was realized.
Darrah, a senior middle school math and science education major, has been cheerleading for most of her life.
“My mom was a cheerleader when she was a kid and all through high school, so my mom was actually my first cheer coach when I was 4 years old,” Darrah said. “I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of boys, so I was always going to their football games and cheering them on.”
She cheered in middle and high school, before spending three years with the Temple White Squad, which cheers for men’s and women’s home basketball games.
Since becoming an Eagles cheerleader, Darrah has performed at all 10 of the preseason and regular season home games, the last being the team’s win against the Dallas Cowboys on New Year’s Day.
“The first Eagles game [I cheered at] was beyond exciting,” Darrah said. “Going from the basketball court to the football field was a huge difference, and there were obviously way more fans. The best thing is when you see kids up in the stands and they’re so excited when you wave to them.”
In addition to cheering at the Eagles’ home games, the Eagles Cheerleaders make appearances at fundraisers, community events and corporate gatherings.
One memorable community event Darrah took part in was the 20th Annual Eagles Playground Build in May. Football players, coaches, cheerleaders and staff of the Eagles teamed up with the Mural Arts Program to build a playground and paint a mural at Hamilton Disston Elementary School in Tacony.
“That was an incredible opportunity because all the kids at the school also had a chance to help paint the mural,” Darrah said. “They could not have been more grateful for the Eagles to come to their school.”
Darrah first auditioned for the Eagles Cheerleading Squad during the spring of her sophomore year. After the open call audition, she moved on to the semi-final elimination and the interview rounds, but was cut at the final audition show.
Nicole Tovey, the head coach of Temple cheerleading, said Darrah was always tenacious during her three years on the White Squad.
“[Darrah is] not one to give up or quit, and she worked really hard to get where she was last year,” Tovey said. “A lot of girls would get discouraged, they would kind of be down on their confidence, but not Jill. She just got right back up and did it again, and she made it.”
Tovey said that while the cheerleaders she coaches at Temple do occasionally try out for the Eagles’ squad, they rarely make the team. Still, she wasn’t surprised when Darrah did, because she “is the epitome of a professional cheerleader.”
“She’s got a great personality, she’s very bubbly and positive,” Tovey said. “She’s a great performer, that’s a big part of it too. She’s just a great role model, a great girl and she’s extremely pretty.”
Darrah had a lot of support during both of her auditions. Many of her family members attended her second audition wearing “Team Jillian” T-shirts, and her teammates on the White Squad had a viewing party.
Caroline Lowndes, a junior mechanical engineering major and current White Squad cheerleader, said she and her teammates chanted “Jilly for Philly” as they waited to hear the audition results.
“The whole team was in one room staring at this tiny little computer screen just celebrating,” she added. “We were all freaking out when she made it, we knew she deserved it.”
“My parents and my brother have been my biggest fans,” Darrah said. “They never missed a dance competition or a cheerleading game, and to have them in the stands at the Eagles stadium, I have been incredibly proud and I’m so thankful for them.”
Alexis Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.