It’s been a while since we heard anything about the Buffalo Jills. Would you agree? That’s why, when a former Jills’ cheerleader by the name of Sue Dougherty reached out to tell us about her ongoing passion for the former cheer squad, I was all ears. Dougherty, it turns out, is a member of the Buffalo Jill’s Alumni Association – an outfit that has hundreds of members. Today, Dougherty is the event coordinator for the group, and is on the hook for arranging the various charitable outings.
When I first spoke to Dougherty, she told me that the reason that she reached out was to inform us that the Buffalo Jill’s Alumni was still alive, and stronger than ever. The members get together for a Jills’ reunion every five years, and then there’s an NFL cheerleader reunion every two years. In fact, Buffalo hosted the third National Football Cheerleaders Alumni Organization (NFCAO) Reunion for former NFL Cheerleaders, which coincided with the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the Buffalo Jills.
The Jills Alumni (a nonprofit group) is also heavily involved with supporting charities – something that was part of their routine back in their cheerleading days. To this day, the girls are connected with a wide variety of causes, including cheering up ailing children – a passion that has never wavered.
“I don’t think people are aware that we exist and we’re thriving,” Dougherty told me. “We have quarterly meetings, reunions, outings, and are still Ambassadors to the Community. We are so much more than a ‘kick line and a hair flip’. I’m hoping to change the narrative – when people talk about the Jills, it’s usually about the lawsuit, but there’s so much more to the story.”
While talking to Dougherty, I came to notice that when talking about the Jills, Dougherty was referencing two camps. Although she wanted to remain positive, and not discuss the 2014 lawsuit initially brought about by five of the cheerleaders, it was hard to avoid the “elephant in the room”. Once again, the lawsuit is what most people point out, when talking about the Jills, which drives Dougherty nuts.
“When I was cheering back in the 80s, we were proud to be Buffalo ambassadors,” she told me. “It never bothered me that we we weren’t getting paid much – we signed a contract and went in with eyes wide open, knowing exactly what we were doing. We loved every minute of it too. Actually, I probably would have paid for the experience – it was that incredible. Yes, I had to weigh in twice a week, but we had to stay in physical shape because it was demanding. That never bothered me. I cheered for four years, and during that time I was never harassed – if I was bothered, I would have walked away. In the end, the only reason that I left was to start a family. After that, the Bills went to the Super Bowl four times… I still can’t believe that I missed that!”
Speaking on her own behalf, and not as a member of The Jills Alumni, Dougherty said that she doesn’t blame the cheerleaders that initiated the lawsuit, but she does feel that maybe it could have been handled a different way, because that was basically the end of cheerleading for the Jills. Her thought is that maybe a new contract could have been negotiated moving forward, instead of going back retroactively. There were disagreements that needed to be hashed out, which led to the lawsuit, which then led to the disbandment of the squad. She mainly feels this way because of her ongoing passion for NFL cheerleading, and she is cognizant of all of the opportunities that she had when she was with the Jills, which are no longer available to others.
“The Jills are so much more than a lawsuit,” reflected Dougherty. “The Jills are incredible, passionate, smart women who bonded over cheerleading and everything that came with it – it’s like a sisterhood. Today I tell the girls that it’s important to lead by example, and to show the community and the Bills organization that there’s another chapter taking place right now. There will always be naysayers, I understand that. People have a bad taste in their mouths because they only dwell on one part of the history of the Jills – the lawsuit… no matter which side they were on. But my energy is concentrated on continuing to turn the ship around.
One of the reasons that Dougherty felt the time was right to reach out and discuss the ongoing positivity surrounding the Jills Alumni is the pending screening of a new film called POMS, starring Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, and a host of other notable actors/celebs. “It’s a movie about older women at a retirement home, who create a cheerleading squad,” Dougherty mentioned. “The Buffalo Jill’s Alumni are getting together for a viewing at the Eastern Hills Mall Dipson on Wed, May 15th. We feel that this is as good a time as any to change the narrative, and to show that we’re doing our part to carry on the good name of the Jills. It’s so important that people know that we’re here, and what we stand for. These are professional women who have big hearts – that’s our legacy, not the lawsuit.”
My last question to Dougherty was whether she saw a time down the road when the Jills would ever take to the field in support of the Bills again. Hesitating, she answered (speaking on her own behalf and not for the association), “[I think] we would be willing to help the Bills if they were willing to talk. I would love to see the Jills back on the field someday – but the Bills might feel differently. I feel that neither side is to blame, and maybe we can all make this right again. In the meantime, we have a lot going on off the field, just like back in the day. More than anything, I hope that the community understands all of the good that came from the Jills, and that we are still strong, and committed to being an invaluable part of the Buffalo legacy.”
Cheerleaders (1960-1965) | Buffalo Jills (1967-2014)