This upcoming football season, New Orleans Saints fans from across the Gulf South can expect to see a familiar face or two as six University of Southern Mississippi alumnae have joined the NFL organization as new members of the Saintsations.
Same colors, different teams, the following alumnae have traded in their black and gold Southern Miss attire for cheerleading uniforms embellished with the Saints fleur-de-lis logo:
Summer Rials ’15, healthcare marketing
Brandy Jarvis ’15, business administration with an emphasis in marketing
Elizabeth Kiehn ’13, international business with a minor in fashion merchandising
Andre’El Brown ’16, journalism
Tasia Poyadou Lamb ’10, biological sciences
Alexis Barbaresi Weeks ’15 dance performance and choreography
Competing against approximately 150 women for a chance to become a member of the renowned Saintsations, aspirants underwent a three-part audition held in April that included a dance audition, formal interview and football quiz, respectively. In the end, 33 finalists were chosen, with six of those from Southern Miss.
When asked about the significant number of Saintsations – past and present – from Southern Miss, Saintsations Director Lesslee Fitzmorris said that she loves the idea of having such a group of beautiful, polite and intelligent girls on her team.
“I know USM has such a great tradition of groups like Dixie Darlings,” said Fitzmorris. “My husband grew up in Tylertown, and he always tells me how we need more girls from Southern Miss.”
Of the six girls, five have participated in those Southern Miss traditions like Dixie Darlings, Southern Misses and the cheerleading team.
Former Dixie Darling Tasia Poyadou Lamb, said she was involved with the drill team all four years while at the University and served as captain for two. Currently working as a dentist, Lamb said she thought her dancing days where over when she started her career but decided to give Saintsations a shot.
“This is one of my wildest dreams and so far from my normal life,” said Lamb. “I am very excited and blessed to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My time as a Dixie Darling has really prepared me for this, especially by teaching me discipline and time management.”
Not only are the Saintsations a group of women dedicated to entertaining fans and cheering on the team, these women are also professionals from various backgrounds and careers such as teaching, banking, sales and dentistry -- like Lamb.
“This is such a great program, representing a brand like the NFL. It’s totally opposite of what people think and what they see on television,” said Fitzmorris. “It’s not all about dancing but more of community service. They learn how to present themselves, give back, donate time, and empower themselves and others.”
Elizabeth Kiehn, a second-year Saintsations and store manager at Buckle in Louisiana, agreed that the empowerment she receives from her team and love she has for them is one reason she continues to perform despite her busy schedule.
“We really are like a family. We all support each other and build each other up. Being around the girls, Miss Lesslee and all of our coaches is one of the reason why I continue to do it,” said Kiehn. “You wouldn’t expect it from most professional cheerleading teams; they really do embrace each and every one of us for who we are. It’s pretty awesome.”
Besides their fellow Saintsations, team members also receive a lot of regard and adoration from Saints fans, especially in surrounding areas near New Orleans. According to Fitzmorris, outside of the girls’ normal lives, they are treated like celebrities win they put on their uniforms, referring to it as “something else and shocking.”
Kiehn concurred. “They (Louisianans) think it’s the greatest thing I’m on the team. They love it and think it’s such a wonderful thing. It really is awesome to be able to be that respected and praised in the community,” said Kiehn. “Being in the uniform, we call it our super hero costume. Once you put it on, you feel like you’re sort of invincible and can do anything.”
The Saints play their first home game Sunday, Sept. 11 against the Oakland Raiders.