NASHVILLE (TSU News Service) – At this year’s Homecoming parade and football game, like in years past, cheerleaders will be featured prominently – and they are preparing and practicing their flips and other tricks for the big day.
While cheerleading is often an activity that features college students and 30-year-olds trying to act like teenagers, one tumbler at this year’s activities will definitely stand out – because she is 97 years old.
Burnece Walker Brunson, a member of the Tennessee A&I College cheerleading squad from 1934-1935, is coming back.…. and boy, is she ready? But please don’t hold up your hopes. She will not be doing the back flips, the pyramids or the cartwheels.
“We didn’t do all of those fancy stuff back then,” said Brunson. “We did some jumps here and there but we did not do all that tossing and throwing.”
Cheerleading is not just a passion, it is one of Brunson’s many ways of staying connected to her alma mater, she said.
“Tennessee State is in my blood. I love this school and I will do whatever it takes to keep coming back,” said the retired schoolteacher, who also returned and performed with the team at age 87 during the 2003 Homecoming. “Cheering for your favorite players and entertaining your fans feel like you are also part of the game.”
At age 7, Brunson and her family left home in Mount Pleasant, Tenn., and moved to Chicago for better education. There, Brunson got her first taste of cheerleading while in high school.
“It fulfilled my desire to stay physically active since there were not many sporting activities for girls during those days,” said Brunson, who considered herself to be a “tomboy.”
“As a child I liked climbing trees; I just liked to be out there where the action was, hanging with the boys or just playing rough,” she said.
Although Chicago was a big city with a lot more to do than her small hometown in Tennessee, Brunson recalls moments of longing (including her family) for her roots and could not wait to come back.
“Our bodies left but our minds were still in Tennessee,” she said.
So, it was no accident then that after high school, she opted to attend TSU (A&I College) in 1933. The following year she joined the cheerleading team.
“Cheering at Tennessee State was just different. It was a family. We did not only take part in activities, we were part of the activities. We got to meet and talk with the visitors including the important guests and speakers. In Chicago, we were only cheerleaders. We did not talk to the people or even mix with them,” she said.
Sitting in her “favorite” chair in her Free Silver Road home in Nashville Sept. 4, and surrounded by her Daughter Carol Brunson Day and son Boyce Brunson, the Nonagenarian, sharp and as alert as ever, talked of her love for TSU in the present.
“It is home; it is family,” she said recalling a life-long friendship with her former college roommate, Maggie Sheffield, of Chattanooga, Tenn. “We have been keeping in touch with each other ever since. She is still my (Hankel Hall) roommate. Our fondest moment is of TSU.”
After receiving her teaching certificate from the then A&I Teacher College in 1936, Brunson later went back to Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree from the Chicago Teacher’s College, and a master’s degree from the National College of Education in Evansville, Ill.
Not even the time away would separate Brunson from TSU and her memories of the institution. “I still kept up with all of the students,” she said.
The longtime retiree and prolific writer is the author of many inspirational books, including “Food for Thought: Nourishment for the Soul,” with tips on how to navigate through life’s challenges. Since 1998, she has been a regular contributor to the Annual Calendar of the National Black Child Development Institute of Washington, D.C.
When asked recently about Brunson’s impending appearance with the TSU Cheerleading Team, Kevin Davis (’84), President of the Alumni Cheerleader Association;’ and Vice President Tanya Allen (’74) said they were elated and moved by her (Brunson) commitment and passion for “anything” TSU.
“I think it’s wonderful that she has the drive and spirit to continually participate,” Allen said. “It gives me great pleasure to see her there in front of everyone doing something she has so much love for,” Davis added.
Asked if fans can expect to see her again cheerleading with the team after this Homecoming, Brunson said, “Don’t count me out; my love for Tennessee State has no end.”
To be sure, Brunson’s name is “etched in stone” at TSU. She has a brick with her name on it.
Join the TSU family to welcome Brunson back on the field September 29 for the Centennial Homecoming game at LP Field.
Department of Media Relations
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About Tennessee State University
With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university and is a comprehensive, urban, coeducational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top Universities in the county by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912 Tennessee State University celebrates 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu
TSU Quick Facts
Motto: Think, Work, Serve Established: June 19, 1912 Type: Public, HBCU Endowment: $41.7 million Chancellor: John Morgan President: Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover Faculty: 431 Enrollment: 8775 Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States Campus: Urban, 500 acres (2 km²) Former names: Tennessee A&I State Normal School for Negroes (1912); Tennessee A&I State Normal College (1925); Tennessee A&I State University (1951); Tennessee State University (1968) Colors: Reflex Blue and White Nickname: Tigers Athletics: National Collegiate Athletic Association Affiliations: Ohio Valley Conference Web site: www.tnstate.edu Phone: 615-963-5000
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