Nancy Kennedy / Citrus Chronicle
Although this week was 8-year-old Jalena Hathorn’s first time at Camp Rah Rah at Crystal River High School, she had heard about it all her life.
Her grandmother, the late Cathie Bramlett, started the cheerleading camp in 1986, and her mother, Megan Bramlett Hathorn, had been a part of it from the first year it started until she graduated from the school in 1995.
“I like how everybody’s very positive, and you’re always having a good time when you cheer,” Jalena said. “My granny taught at this school, and she loved teaching cheer a lot, and my Paw Paw used to coach football here.”
Jalena even wore a T-shirt from last year’s camp that the cheerleaders designed in Coach Cathie Bramlett’s memory. It reads: “Any man can hold a girl’s hand, but only the elite can hold her feet,” something Bramlett was fond of saying.
Cathie Bramlett died May 5, 2016, at age 72.
Since Bramlett started Camp Rah Rah, it has become a beloved summer event that draws girls from age 4 to eighth grade, eager to learn stunts and dances and cheers like, “Peel banana, peel, peel banana,” and “Vroom sha vroom, uh huh, oh yeah.”
“When my dad came to Crystal River High School, there wasn’t a cheerleading coach, so he asked Momma if she would do it,” Megan Hathorn said. “She took the bull by the horns and made it what is is today.”
Coach Earl Bramlett had come to CRHS as football coach in 1985, and Cathie Bramlett started teaching at Crystal River Middle School.
She had never been a cheerleader — she was a majorette and the featured twirler at the University of Tampa where she met Earl, who was on the football team. But she began coaching and fell in love with the cheerleaders.
“She loved to watch them come from hardly any skills and grow to be good competitors,” Earl Bramlett said.
The couple became a team. Earl focused on the football games and Cathie and her cheerleaders decorated, put up signs, put together scrapbooks for the players and did what they could to support the team.
“She was big into community service projects,” Hathorn said. “She wanted us to be community-based so people knew that we volunteered at nursing homes, feeding the homeless. We didn’t just cheer.”
Camp Rah Rah started as a fundraiser for the cheerleaders to raise money for their own cheerleading camps, with the school cheerleaders teaching the younger girls from the community.
“The community started seeing what kind of program my mom was building at Crystal River High School,” Hathorn said, “and it was a great way for girls to also get started to see if they had a love and a passion for the sport.”
And it IS a sport.
Kate Whited, current CRHS head cheerleader coach and herself a former CRHS cheerleader, said cheerleading is being considered as an official Olympic sport.
“All the girls do is condition,” she said. “They tumble, they stunt, they’re worked hardcore.”
Whited said the best thing about cheerleading, especially at Crystal River High School, is the tradition of the program.
“There have been cheerleaders probably since the school started, and we even have a closet of decades-old uniforms נso much history,” she said. A big part of the history and the tradition of the program belongs to Cathie Bramlett and her 25 years with the program.
“My mom was instrumental in cheerleading becoming a sport in the state of Florida, being recognized by the Florida High School Athletics Association,” Hathorn said. “As our school progressed with cheerleading, we began to compete, and we became coed in my senior year.
“There were 10 guys and 11 girls, and when we competed at ESPN, we were fifth in the nation,” she said.
While her mother was coach, the CRHS cheerleaders traveled to London and Paris, went to New York and walked in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, qualified for 10 national championships, and more than 50 team members received national recognition as all-stars.
Cathie Bramlett herself was recognized as national cheerleading coach of the year twice, state cheerleading coach of the year five times and national volunteer coach of the year in 1998.
And on Sept. 9, 2016, four months after Cathie died, the school’s Earl Bramlett Stadium was renamed Bramlett Stadium to include Cathie Bramlett for her contribution to the school’s athletic legacy.
“She was a true lover of children,” Hathorn said. “She was the quintessential Southern belle, our ‘steel magnolia,’ whether as a mom, a teacher or a cheerleading coach. She carried our family נshe carried our Pirate family. And she loved Camp Rah Rah.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.