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GoldenGirls

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | Mar 11, 2013, midnight
Dr. Jamila Williams gets her groove on performing as a member of the Phoenix Suns’ Golden Grannies. Barry Gossage

As a teacher and principal in Portland (Ore.) Public Schools, Dr. Jamila Williams taught elementary-aged girls the ins and outs of drill team maneuvers. Her award-winning team was choreographed and trained by Williams, who secretly wished she had the opportunity to shine in the spotlight once again.

All that changed when she moved to Arizona. For the past three years, Williams has spent her golden years decked out in gold lamé pants and gold shoes, strutting her stuff with the Phoenix Suns’ Golden Grannies.

“When I had my drill team, I would go out there and see them perform. I’d blow the whistle and give the signals, but I wasn’t out there performing,” Williams says. “When the opportunity came to be with the Golden Grannies, I said, ‘It’s my turn, finally!’”

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Betty Shanley, far left, never took a dance class but enjoys music and her time with the Golden Grannies.

The 8-year-old Golden Grannies dance team is comprised of 37 highly energetic seniors who perform at select Suns home games, including the March 20 contest against the Washington Wizards. Auditions call for women who are excited about Suns basketball and who are willing to perform in front of large crowds.

Williams and fellow Granny Betty Shanley, both 57, certainly fit the bill. Shanley is animated, admittedly unable to speak without flailing her arms. A former resident of tiny Kane, Pa., she can’t get enough of the big city and her big-time dancing role.

“My husband and I took my mom to a Suns game and (the Grannies) performed that night,” Shanley says. “Their energy, the way the crowd responded to them. I love dancing and anything with music. That’s how it was. I said to my husband, ‘I think I could maybe do that’—and I did!”

Unlike Williams, Shanley never participated in a dance team or cheerleading squad. Instead, she immersed herself in basketball.

“I did not cheer,” she says. “I did not dance. I never took a dance lesson in my life. I love music. I started out in a little town of 600 people. We moved here, and this is like heaven. It has all the sports venues. Where I grew up, we were closest to Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Cleveland. We really didn’t have an allegiance to a team.”

Now both she and Williams are aligned with Sun Channing Frye, who is taking time off to treat a virus-induced enlarged heart (dilated cardiomyopathy). Williams sighs before she remarks about Frye’s condition.

“He’s my favorite because when I was in Oregon, Channing Frye was on the Portland Trail Blazers,” Williams says.

“I was a principal at the time. He and a couple of the other Trail Blazers came to my school and gave Christmas gifts to my students. I was in a high-poverty school. They gave the kids bikes. They were riding around. I also started a boys group so Channing and James Jones. They met with my boys group and they talked to them. Channing took one of my tough boys and put him in a headlock. He was such a great person.”

The same could be said for the Golden Grannies, who also perform at area high schools during pep rallies and other assemblies. Williams and Shanley treasure the friendships they’ve made during their tenure with the Grannies.

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