For eight year old Jaycee Jackson, Valparaiso University basketball is much more than a game. For her, the VU home games are about more than just watching basketball, they’re about another game she can cheer on the Crusaders to victory.
You see, for the last five years Jackson hasn’t missed a Valpo home game. And she’s also hard to miss. She wears her Valpo cheerleading outfit proudly, cheering on the Crusaders from the crowd while also living out her dream of one day being a student at VU and cheering courtside.
“She’s been dressing up since she was 3, so she’s been dressing up for five years,” Jaycee’s grandmother, Sharon Jackson said.
She has everything the “real” cheerleaders have as well, the pom-poms, the outfit and certainly the spirit. When the cheerleaders take center court during a break in the play, Jackson is quick to run to the center of the main aisle and mirror the moves the VU cheerleaders are doing on the court.
“I get to see a lot of people, and I know that Valpo is a great team… The cheerleaders say a lot of things to me, usually it’s just ‘Hi’, ‘How you doing?’. But there’s this dancer, and we’re like BFFs. Her name is Dani, and we talk about cheers and stuff,” Jaycee Jackson said.
“No one has taught her to cheer, she has come here over the years and has taught herself,” Sharon Jackson said. “She puts her bags underneath the bleachers with the cheerleaders, and changes with them. When we won the Horizon League this season, she sat on the floor and listened to (the players), so she has a good time.”
At school, she looks forward to the VU games all week long. Her grandmother, Sharon, is an employee at the University, and has had season tickets to the Crusaders’ men’s basketball team. When Jaycee was three, Sharon took her to her first basketball game, and they had a cheerleading outfit that they thought Jaycee would like to wear, and the rest is history.
“Jaycee just came to the game with us, and we had an outfit for her, and she has worn one ever since,” Sharon Jackson said.
Jaycee’s favorite player is 6’ 10” senior center Vashil Fernandez, who has been one of the team’s top players over the last few years after head coach Bryce Drew recruited him from Jamaica four years ago.
“My favorite player is Vashil (Fernandez). He always hugs me (when he sees me),”
Valpo plays host to St. Mary’s on Tuesday night in the NIT quarterfinals at the Athletics-Recreation Center on campus. For the Crusaders, even with a win, it will be their last home game of the 2015-16 season, as the tournament’s semifinals and championship game are played at Madison Square Garden annually.
But this one game will be Jaycee’s chance to cheer on the Crusaders to a school record 29 wins, which would make this Valpo team the most successful in school history.