Carolina Panthers’ TopCats return to Myrtle Beach for block party

The cheer squad rooting for the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League at every home game in Charlotte, N.C., stays raring to visit Myrtle Beach every summer as well.

The TopCats will return to The Market Common in Myrtle Beach for their second annual “Meet-and-Greet Block Party,” 6-8 p.m. Saturday, in front of Dolce Lusso Salon and Spa, 3050 Howard Ave., at Nevers Street. Dolce Lusso also has welcomed the cheerleaders for several annual summer cheer clinics through 2012, across the street at Valor Memorial Garden, giving local youth the chance to learn some basics in building a routine, then dance and wave pompoms with the TopCats.

Richelle Williams, the team’s cheerleader manager/choreographer, relayed to members of the TopCats several questions about their profession and football fan interaction. She rounded up replies from six women, one-quarter of the squad: Whitney Bailey, Katie DeFrancisci, Madelyn Hoover, Brandice McDowell, Ashley Wik and Lindsey Yoder.

Some excerpts:

Question | What renewed feeling of fan spirit for the team returned with the Panthers’ season of claiming the NFC South division title and entertaining the San Francisco 49ers for a playoff game on Jan. 12?

Bailey | Claiming the NFC South title … brought the fans’ spirits to a new level. The atmosphere on game days is indescribable.

DeFrancisci | Making it to playoffs this past season was beyond exciting. ... There were smiles and tears of joy everywhere.

Hoover | The overwhelming feeling of excitement and team pride from the fans … were absolutely amazing and something I would love to relive over and over again. That energy and excitement only grew when we had … our home playoff game.

McDowell | The team “chatter” and morale were up-up-up. After all, we started from behind, with a 1-3 record, and clawed our way back into the playoffs.

Wik | Hosting a home playoff game was such an honor and an opportunity that has not happened in Charlotte in a while. You could feel the energy from the entire city the week of the game.

Yoder | I knew it was a special year for the fans when we played New Orleans at the end of the season, and a thunderstorm came through that dropped buckets of rain from the sky, and all I could see when I looked out into the stadium seats were cheering fans. I would say 90 percent of the fans stayed out in that storm, drenched but with smiles on their faces to cheer on our team. That’s true spirit!

Q. | What change in enthusiasm was most easily noticed across the fan spectrum in the stands and across metro Charlotte?

Bailey | When I think about our fans ... some games they were so loud, we could barely hear our music while performing on the sidelines.

Hoover | The one word that comes to mind when I think of the change in enthusiasm is “pride.” ... Sure signs of this are everywhere, from the roar of the fans in the stadium during the season to the Carolina Panthers apparel and car logos spotted all around Charlotte, no matter the time of year.

McDowell | The Panther pride was most noticeable by people “gearing up” – literally. Everywhere I was, people were wearing Panthers gear, colors, shouting things, such as “keep pounding!”

Q. | These TopCats’ fan interactive events such as the block party this Friday outside Dolce Lusso Salon and Spa in Myrtle Beach, where the women visit every summer: Where are other such regular visits across the Carolinas in the long run-up to the Panthers new season kicking off Sept. 7 in Tampa and at home Sept. 14 against Detroit?

Bailey | I recently participated in a “Draft Day Party” in Charlotte.

DeFrancisci | Whether it’s NFL “Play 60” events, school pep rallies, hospital visits, block parties, etc., we love being out in our community and getting everyone excited for the coming season.

Hoover | My first event for this season will be at Freedom Park in Charlotte where the Panthers will be hosting a “Play 60 Day.” The NFL’s “Play 60” initiative encourages kids to establish positive health and fitness habits, and the Panthers have created a Play 60 Kid Zone at Freedom Park where kids can enjoy a fun, outdoor atmosphere. I love attending events where we get to interact with kids; they’re my favorite.

McDowell | Fan Fest is one of my favorite events, and this year, it’s scheduled for Friday, July 25. Mark your calendars for your chance to meet the TopCats, watch us perform and see the 2014 Carolina Panthers take the field for the first time.

Wik | The TopCats participate in numerous events before, during and after the season. One annual event we participate in is going up to Spartanburg for training camp. This is one of my personal favorites because it allows you to see the team from the very start.

Yoder | You can find the TopCats making military camp visits to show our support for the troops, and hospital visits. Our biggest event during the summer is the Junior TopCats Summer Camp, which we look forward to every year. It gives young girls in the Carolinas the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a TopCat.

Q. | Outside of cheering, what do you enjoy doing in free time?

Yoder | I am training for my first Ironman half-triathlon this summer, which is a 1.2-mile swim, followed by a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run, so I spend most of my weekends out training for the race. I love all the triathlon events held in North Carolina; we have an amazing triathlon community.

Q. | How much practice during the week goes into preparing for each home game?

Hoover | Practicing for home games, events and appearances is a daily routine. When we aren’t at one of our weekly Wednesday or Saturday practices, you can probably find most of us practicing routines in a dance studio, at the gym or in our living rooms. Practicing routines makes them second nature to us so we can keep our focus on the fans and just having a blast on game day. When you love what you do, practicing is fun.

McDowell | Sixteen hours: It’s eight hours of formal practice, plus two hours of at-home practice, plus four hours of cardio/strength training on “off days,” plus any game-week appearances, which are typically two hours.

Yoder | We have a couple regularly scheduled practices each week where we rehearse at the stadium, but each day, we put in our time rehearsing choreography on our own or meeting up with teammates to go over formations. We learn a lot of material over the summer, and it requires us to consistently practice even when a formal rehearsal is not scheduled. We also have to prepare ourselves for the hot summer games physically, so we are training by doing cardio outside on our own as well. It takes a lot of work to be a professional cheerleader.

Q. | How is the woman chosen each year for the TopCats to attend the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and meet and perform with cheerleaders representing each of the other 25 teams that field their own cheer teams?

DeFrancisci | They are selected and announced in an extremely fun way every year. Sometimes they announce them on the field at game day, at a practice, or at a group outing, but every time, it has been an amazing and memorable experience.

McDowell | We ... vote on the one person we believe is always at the “top of her game” and embodies everything that being a TopCat means: athlete, cheerleader, dancer, entertainer, teammate, “sister,” role model and representative.

Yoder | We take the time to really think about who we would want to represent us not only as a performer, but as someone who can speak well at the appearances, be engaging with the fans at the events, has a lot of Panther pride and passion for our organization, and someone who has the ability to form deep friendships with others easily.