Christy Stechman Zynda ’97 a former BK Crusaders Cheerleader was featured in the following article that ran on the front page of the September 6 edition of the Florida-Times Union. Our thanks to the TU for granting permission to reprint.
Jaguars entertainment director says ‘effortless and easy’ is goal
By Matt Soergel
The Florida Times-Union
A few hours before the first Jaguars preseason game, the skies turned black and thunder boomed, forcing the team to issue a “Code Blue” warning to clear the stadium and get everyone inside. That included the members of the Roar, the cheerleading squad, which had to cut short its last practice before the real stuff began.
Christy Stechman Zynda wasn’t perturbed. Sure, she has 85 people to organize, and on game day she lugs around a down-to-the-second, multipage schedule, two walkie-talkies and a cell phone, while listening through earpieces as well. But it’s hard to get her flustered.
After all, she’s been on this field for 20 years, going back to 1998, when she became a Jaguars cheerleader while still a student at the University of North Florida.
In 2004 she was named director of cheerleaders, and two years ago she was promoted to director of branded entertainment.
That means she oversees many of the things that go on before and during Jaguars games that don’t involve actual football: the cheerleaders, furry mascot Jaxson DeVille, the D-Line drummers, and the JaxPack, that active crew that runs around with flags and shoots those free T-shirts into the stands that people go crazy for.
None of their routines and antics happen by chance. Zynda, who walks the sidelines during the game, is behind them all.
“You want people to think that it’s effortless and easy and just happens,” she said. “That’s the goal.”
On a stadium concourse, safe from the lightning outside, Zynda stopped to say hi to Jim Berlinghoff, who invented and maintains the Gatling gun-like devices that shoot those T-shirts. He’s at every game making sure they shoot straight. Don’t complain to him, by the way, if those bundles inevitably fall just short of your row.
He grinned. “I can launch them out of the stadium. They just won’t let me.”
Zynda’s job keeps her busy all year: The cheerleaders, the D-Line and Jaxson DeVille are often out in the community, and she oversees all that, along with the junior cheerleader program.
Then there’s payroll, uniforms and cheerleader choreography. Jaxson, however, arranges his own stunts and has his own rigging crew. “I definitely have not jumped from the light tower myself,” she said.
Game day’s the big event though. Zynda is at the stadium, on the field, for every home game and for the annual trip to London. Her job is kind of like being an air-traffic controller, she said, making sure everything goes smoothly in the unpredictable, noisy environment of a NFL game.
It isn’t easy, of course: There are many moving parts, all detailed in the script she carries. She’s in constant contact with her squads’ captains, via the walkie-talkies and subtle hand signals, and she listens through headphones for notices of commercial breaks, penalties, replays — all the times where her groups may be needed to come to action.
“It’s definitely tense, but it’s exciting. It’s adrenaline; it’s show day. It’s that moment, that moment you walk out on that stage,” Zynda said.
She’s up for it, said Nick Carnes, a Jax Pack captain who’s nicknamed Hype Man. He’s in his 16th year toting flags and shooting T-shirts.
“She knows how this thing runs. Everyone knows she’s the one. So we look up to her. She’s Momma,” Carnes said. “Mommy Christy.”
Well before kickoff for the preseason game against New Orleans, the thunderstorms passed, though there were still a few sprinkles. Zynda spoke into a walkie-talkie: Get the cheerleaders’ rain gear ready, just in case.
Standing at the 50-yard line by the Jaguars bench, she smiled as the Roar was introduced at the center of the field at 6:43 p.m. “It makes me happy,” she said. “They worked so hard, and when you see it come together, full hair and makeup ... .”
A few minutes later, the visiting team was introduced.
“Palms down,” she said, as the Saints run on the field. On cue, the cheerleaders put their teal pompoms behind their backs — not disrespectful, but certainly no sign of support for the visiting team.
Then Jaxson DeVille and Carnes, from the Jax Pack, helped lead Jaguar players out of the locker room, at a sprint.
The Jaguars had the opening kickoff, so she made sure Jax Pack members were ready with big flags at all corners, preparing for a Jags touchdown. Sure enough, quarterback Blake Bortles would soon sneak into the end zone on the opening drive, and the Jax Pack made its celebratory dash across the end zones.
Before that would happen though, the clock was ticking down to kickoff as Zenda spoke into her walkie-talkie: “Great job, everyone, with pregame. Just make sure they stay hydrated.”
Another season was about to begin.
“Off to a smooth start,” she said. “And the rain has stopped.”
She gave a satisfied smile. “Game time.”
Reprinted with permission from The Florida Times-Union. Story was originally published on Sept. 6, 2018.