Monday, July 30, 2007
The Buffalo News
The Buffalo News
If you’re a Buffalo Bills fan, you’ll understand how Jo Anne Gaulin felt the summer of 1967.
She watched her favorite team trade their star player — quarterback Jack Kemp. She saw fellow Bills supporters grumble as they sat in the cold at the Rockpile to watch the games. “I felt we needed some color,” she said. So she came up with an idea.
It came to fruition a few months later — clad in knee-length, blue pleated skirts, turtlenecks, blue sweaters and the trademark white boots.
Paulin is the founder of the Buffalo Jills, the Bill’s famous cheerleading squad.
The first squad had 18 women on it — mostly friends and friends of friends, Gaulin said. Four made it back to the Jills 40-year reunion in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo Saturday night.
They weren’t alone. More than 200 women from all over the country came to celebrate their time as members of the Jills.
Former Buffalo Jills Joni Sprague, left, founder Jo Anne Gaulin, center, and Ellen Chiazza look over a Jills DVD during a reunion Saturday in Buffalo.
Gaulin said she still remembers pitching her idea to Buffalo Bills management.
“Ralph Wilson wanted a group of women that he could be proud of,” she said.
So, she worked with him to come up with some rules. To join the Jills, they decided, you had to be married and between 22 and 32 years old.
Dolly Hanna was a member of the original squad. Unlike some of the Jills today, she was almost 30 when she joined.
She said she played the clarinet in high school and had never cheered before. But her husband heard about the new squad through a friend from work and encouraged her to try out.
She made the team and trained all year, learning the cheers, dance moves and kicks.
“The first game, we moved with the ball,” she said. “We ran up and down the field again and again. . . . I was so sore, I laid down the whole next day.”
Gaulin said when the first squad held up placards that spelled Buffalo, the crowd went wild.
But cheering wasn’t without its challenges. Cari Evans still remembers how hard it was to smile in the bitter cold.
Lee Marie Hilliker, who cheered in 1968, remembered lengthening her skirt to make sure it touched her knee — then a requirement.
Over the next several years, things began to change.
Kathy Chaffee Ostroski cheered from 1976 to 1980. She was on the squad when the team decided to change the rules, allowing unmarried 18- year-olds to cheer.
She said as one of the oldest women on the team, she was able to guide the younger cheerleaders.
“We reminded them to be ladies,” she said.
It’s a message that was central to Gaulin when she started the squad many years ago.
“We were a squad of classy girls,” she said. “We still are.”