Wednesday, November 29, 2006
By Jeff DiVeronica
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
For eight Sundays each fall, Aimee Grymin stands in front of about 75,000 people at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
But five days a week, the Buffalo Jills cheerleader and Pittsford native stands in front of a classroom of children at Burger Middle School in west Henrietta to teach math.
"We're trying to change it around," the 23-year-old says of the stereotype of being an NFL cheerleader. "We're not just 'pretty girls' wearing uniforms that are semi-revealing. We want to raise awareness that cheerleading isn't just going on the field and dancing around, acting like bimbos."
Grymin is the antithesis of that.
A self-described "math geek," she's a dedicated first-year teacher who cares more about her students than about the final score on Sunday. She works mostly with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
Grymin — whose name is pronounced GRY-muhn — asks friends to introduce her as a teacher first, then maybe later fill in the blanks about being team captain in her fifth year with the Jills, a squad of about 40 women ages 18 to 36.
Last week Grymin also was chosen by her Jills teammates to represent the team at the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii in February. She had been a finalist twice before for the honor.
"She brings a lot of energy and positive outlook to teaching kids. She's very student-centered," says Burger principal Shaun Nelms, who also is in his first year in the Rush-Henrietta district. "She seems to make every student feel comfortable, and she's always looking for ways to improve."
Grymin gets satisfaction from helping students learn and loves both her teaching job and her part-time gig as a Jill. But the feeling she gets on the sideline is almost an indescribable thrill, she says. It makes those long days and the drives home after games and twice-a-week practices — when the weather can make the Thruway tough to negotiate — all worth it.
"It's so surreal," she says. "I get choked up when I talk about it. Every time you go out there and see 75,000 people watching you and it's so loud, you think: This is the coolest thing in the world. Just think of the best time in your life, and that's it for me — right now at least.
"It's such an adrenaline rush."
Our teacher's a Jill
Until recently, being a Jill was Grymin's "secret identity" at school, although she didn't try to hide it from colleagues or administrators. In fact, she listed Jills director Stephanie Mateczun as a reference on her résumé, and Nelms says he heard so much about Grymin's hard work and leadership as a Jill that it was part of the reason she landed the teaching job.
"I thought she'd be a great addition to our team," the principal says. "I left it up to her to tell her students."
She didn't at first.
But word began to spread among students shortly after some publicity about her appearing on the NFL Network's NFL Cheerleader Playoffs, which pits teams of two women from every NFL cheering squad against each other in a competition that includes swimming and running.
Grymin used her skills to teach teammate Omarlla Barnett how to swim last summer in preparation.
"I was nervous at first. It was hard to coordinate the breathing," says Barnett, who combined with Grymin to finish first in their swimming relay and running race. "But Aimee was real patient, very encouraging."
Grymin didn't encourage a few students who brought in Internet pictures of her as a Jill. She politely told the students she wouldn't sign them.
"It's important they see me as their math teacher first and that cheerleading is just something I do on the side for fun," Grymin says. "I knew it'd leak out, but I don't boast about it. It's important the kids trust you. For the time they're (in school), it's like you're their parent. They're your responsibility."
Joining the Jills
Grymin wanted to be a teacher long before she got into cheerleading, dance and musicals, including her first role as Peter Pan in a fourth-grade play. (The cast was short on boys.)
As a little girl at home, the daughter of Joe and Inta Grymin would make her brother, David, who is a year younger, take spelling tests.
"I'd give him an 'F' because he was in kindergarten and didn't know how to spell yet," Aimee says, laughing at the memory.
She participated in volleyball, swimming and some figure skating as a girl, but she liked dance and cheerleading most. She got serious about cheering as a junior at Pittsford Mendon High School, and after less than a year at the State University College at Fredonia, she realized she missed cheerleading.
Grymin considered transferring to the State University at Buffalo, where she could cheer for Division I teams, but her mother, a big Bills fan, suggested she try out for the Jills.
"I had no idea who they even were," she says.
Not all fun
But Grymin made the team and is now one of its veterans. It can be a demanding hobby.
The Jills practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 pm to 10 pm, which means a pretty long day, even for an in-shape woman like Grymin. She leaves home at 7 am and usually isn't back home until almost midnight.
She talks on her cell phone, "jams out" to some music or listens to her current favorite musicians, Michael Buble and Gavin DeGraw.
So far, the worst weather she has encountered was at the start of last month's peculiar early-fall snowstorm. Severe wind blew the wiper blades off her 1999 Honda Civic and Grymin had to have them replaced, so she never made it to practice that night. Her drive home took 2½ hours instead of the usual 90 minutes.
Long game days
Game days can be grueling, too.
All Bills home games have 1 pm kickoffs this season, so Grymin arrives about 9 am She prepares for the practice the Jills have for their pre-game or halftime routines, and by 10 she is at the field house adjacent to the stadium for the pre-game show on the Bills Radio Network.
It's something new for her this year. She gives a brief weather forecast and talks football for a few minutes.
"It sounds kind of sexist, but we thought, 'Let's get a pretty face on the stage that can give us a different perspective,'" says show host Rich Gaenzler, 39, a Rochester native and McQuaid graduate. "Aimee has been great. Her personality is really bright. It's just the way she is."
By 10:30 am Grymin is starting practice, and by 12:15 pm the Jills are in the tunnel, waiting to enter the stadium. Bundling up is a necessity most of the time in Orchard Park, but Grymin and the Jills survive.
She'll do some post-game tailgating with fans, including her mother, but often they end up at Applebee's, she says.
"By then I'm starving because we never really have much time to eat," she says. "I try to have a big breakfast."
Paying bills, dating Bills
Two of the misperceptions about the Jills involve how much money they earn and whether they are permitted to date the players.
The Jills aren't paid a salary by Citadel Broadcasting, which owns the squad. They receive one free ticket to each home game from the Bills and also get perks such as discounted gym memberships or tanning.
Jills can make a couple of hundred dollars a month from doing appearances, but with Grymin's schedule it's tough. She earns "about enough to pay for gas," she says.
As for dating the Bills, the answer is "No."
The Jills have a "no-fraternization rule," meaning they can't date players. A violation means being dismissed from the team.
"We get many offers," Grymin says.
"What I tell them is, 'Nice try. You can call me when I'm done cheering, but who knows when that will be?'"
She says she wants to keep cheering for as long as her body holds up, alluding more to the grind of long days than to losing her figure.
But teaching is something that's in her blood, she say, something she'll always want to do.
"If the kids know you really care about them," she says, "I think that helps. My job comes before being a cheerleader."
And Grymin doesn't mind being a role model. Her mother, an outgoing teaching assistant at Calkins Road Middle School in Pittsford, was and still is her model.
"She's probably the coolest lady you'll ever meet. We have our coffee. We go shopping. She supports me; she pushes me," Grymin says, her eyes welling with tears. "I strive to be like her."