As COVID-19 numbers drop and the country reopens, Philadelphia Eagles fans can’t wait to watch the Birds play in-person. But there are two individuals who may be even more excited than these diehards – Bucks County locals James LeGette and Mayah Henriques, who recently joined the Eagles cheerleaders squad for the upcoming season.
LeGette, of Levittown, and Henriques, of Bensalem, are among 11 new members to come out of the grueling audition process victorious. Hundreds of candidates spanning 24 states, in addition to Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Canada, vied for a coveted spot on the squad.
“We are thrilled to announce our squad for the 2021 season,” said Barbara Zaun, Eagles director of entertainment teams. “As ambassadors for the organization, the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders embrace meaningful engagement with our fans and have a strong connection with the community. This year’s newly selected cheerleaders will have an integral role in welcoming our extraordinary fans back to Lincoln Financial Field.”
For LeGette, an instructional assistant at Maple Point Middle School and a Bucks County Community College alum, joining the squad is something he’s aspired to for some time. Two years ago, when LeGette witnessed Kyle Tanguay become the first man to cheer for Philadelphia football in 35 years, he knew he wanted to follow in Tanguay’s footsteps.
“You never see guys out there anymore. So, because of him, he gave me the inspiration to try out,” said LeGette.
Though he was unsuccessful in his first audition attempt last year, LeGette tried again. Auditions were held from April through June via Zoom, with the final callback taking place at the Linc. This time, he received the news he was hoping for.
“I’m really ecstatic about this opportunity. The second I found out, I was at my dance recital actually because I teach at a dance school. I was in the audience getting ready to watch my girls dance, and I saw the email and I literally just started crying,” said LeGette. “I missed my girls’ number because I was crying. I went backstage. Once they were done, I told them and they were all screaming with me.”
His students at Maple Point were also happy for him.
“They said it on the morning announcements and everyone just sort of looked at me and then started cheering and screaming,” said LeGette. “It was pretty exciting, not gonna lie.”
He has been teaching dance for the last four years in Levittown, and gymnastics for two years in Newtown. However, his passion for cheerleading goes way back.
“I was actually a cheerleader in middle and high school,” he said.
With the start of football season quickly approaching, LeGette can’t wait to get started.
“It’s literally been on my mind since the second I made the team. It’s all I can talk about. My friends, you can tell they’re getting a little tired of me talking about it, but I can’t help it,” he said. “I really hope that I can inspire a whole bunch of other men to enjoy this sport just as much as I do, because I believe it’s a sport. If you see all the dedication that we have, dancing, tumbling or just cheering in general, if you see the athleticism that we have to do, you can see how it is a sport in my opinion.”
Additionally, since LeGette works with students in the emotional support classroom, he can’t wait to get involved with the Eagles Autism Foundation. Since his current job has flexibility and most cheer practices are in the evening, he will continue working at the Neshaminy School District.
Henriques, whose parents own Bucks County Dance Center in Bensalem, is just as excited.
“I am super honored to have the opportunity to be a part of this amazing organization. I think it’s crazy that I can be a part of Philadelphia and help represent the Philadelphia Eagles,” she said. “This has been a dream of mine since I was 10 years old. So just to live out my dream is absolutely amazing.”
Growing up, Henriques tried her hand at various dance styles. Throughout her early teen years, she even traveled to New York to take classes and enhance her professional training. Despite not having a cheer background, she thought her vast experience in dance would be enough to become an Eagles cheerleader.
And she was absolutely correct.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” Henriques said. “I personally hope that I can inspire the younger generation. I’m super excited for the Junior Cheer Clinic. I remember when I was 10 years old, I actually attended the cheer clinic and just how those amazing cheerleaders at the time inspired me, it makes me want to give back.”
Not only is Henriques thrilled to perform at Lincoln Financial Field, she can’t wait to do so with a close friend. She and LeGette met several years ago while working at Sesame Place, and were delighted to reconnect during the audition process. LeGette was the first to see the email announcing that they both made the squad, and immediately informed Henriques.
“James texted me while I was driving, it came up on my little smart TV in my car. It said, ‘We made it,’ ” reflected Henriques. “I pulled over to check it myself, I called my mom. I was driving home from the mall. It was so crazy to hear that I’m an actual Eagles cheerleader.”
Simultaneously, Henriques is pursuing a degree in business administration from Cairn University with plans to take over her parents’ studio someday.
Sharing LeGette’s sentiment, Henriques can’t wait to perform in front of the roaring crowd.
“Being on the field in the final audition, seeing all the stands and imagining all the people, I’m so extremely blessed and humbled to have this opportunity,” she said. “Just to see the fans back, the field, I’m just so excited for everything.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org