Cheerleader keeps Panther spirit alive

by Sarah Melton

Jessica Fife, of Mount Holly, loves pumping up Carolina Panthers fans.

Despite a 23-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Nov. 28, that dropped the Carolina Panthers to 1-10 and secured the team’s spot as the worst among the National Football League’s 32 teams, there’s one fan who hasn’t lost her spirit.

Mount Holly resident Jessica Fife is one of the National Football League team’s 24 cheerleaders, better known as the TopCats. She said she gets nervous butterflies in her stomach before hitting the field, but that feeling goes away once she hears the crowd screaming and chanting “P-A-N-T-H-E-R-S.”

“I feel like the cheerleaders are a big part of the team,” Fife said. “That is why we are out there – to support and encourage everybody to be excited about our team.”

Despite the teams’ numerous losses, Fife, who grew up in Mount Holly, knows the fans are proud of their team. She hears and sees it firsthand when she is not in the TopCats uniform.

“Even when I am out on the street and people don’t know I am a Panthers cheerleader, I may have a Panthers bag or apparel on and someone will see me, strike up a conversation and say, ‘That is my team,’” she said. “It makes my day to see those die-hard fans because that is what I am. I feel like people are still backing our team and that is our team. That is our football team.”

Fife has more than 20 years of dance, cheer, acting, modeling and voice training and experience. She has landed roles in the movies “Bring it On: All or Nothing” and “Shallow Hal” and was featured in Oxygen Channel’s “Campus Ladies.”

The 24-year-old spent four years in Los Angeles, but returned to her hometown to be near family. She opened a performing arts dance studio, Carolina Academy of Artistic Dance, in Belmont and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Although Fife had already accomplished so much by her early twenties, she always wanted to be a TopCat. She tried out in the spring, making cut after cut as the routines got harder and faster. The audition process took about a month, and Fife was shocked when she received an e-mail with news that she had made the team.

“I know I still have that e-mail saved,” Fife said. “I couldn’t believe it. The girls that auditioned were very talented, intelligent, beautiful women, and it was very tough competition. Plus, I had no experience as a professional cheerleader.”

The TopCats rehearse twice a week at Bank of America stadium and perform at the team’s home games.  They also make public appearances and volunteer throughout the regular season, which ends when the Panthers play the Atlanta Falcons Jan. 2.

Volunteerism has always been a big part of Fife’s life, even before she joined the TopCats. Fife has volunteered at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and The Charlotte Urban Ministry Center serving food to the homeless. Her dance studio collects food donations for the Community Relief Organization in Mount Holly every Christmas and Thanksgiving. Fife has also worked with mentally and physically disabled children since she was in middle school.

“I feel like it is important to instill that in the kids that come through the studio and set an example for them and lead them in that direction,” she said of volunteerism.

Fife stays busy managing and operating her dance studio, cheering for the Panthers, volunteering at various organizations and attending University of North Carolina at Charlotte as a full-time student. She will graduate in 2012. But of all those life experiences, being a TopCat has been the most extraordinary, Fife said.

“It’s hard to explain, but to be out on that field and be part of such a big organization that impacts the community and our state in such a big way makes me proud,” she said. “It makes me feel like I am doing something to contribute to that. It’s very fulfilling.”

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