Makenzie Perdue '22 spends part of her Saturdays supporting the Elon football team as a cheerleader, but come halftime, she puts down her poms poms and picks up a clarinet.
With a scorching October sun beating down on their South Campus practice field, the Elon marching band, Fire of the Carolinas, recently rehearsed their halftime routine for an upcoming football game.
“I’m so proud of you all,” said Director of Bands Jonathan Poquette over the loud speakers. “I know it’s hot. Thank you so much.” Drum majors then wrapped up practice with an “E-U, you know” chant, and with that, Saturday’s show was another day closer.
But, notes and marching routines weren’t the only focus at practice that day. Makenzie Perdue ’22, a clarinetist in the marching band, is also an Elon cheerleader, which can make for a busy day in Rhodes Stadium. During football games, she plays the halftime show with the marching band, but spends the rest of the game with the cheer team.
On practice days, while the band is polishing its routines to ramp up the crowd before games, Perdue takes that time to hone her cheerleading moves before rejoining the band to practice its halftime show.
“While they’re over here practicing their pre-game, I’m over there practicing my motions, probably looking crazy,” Perdue said.
Game days can find Perdue with her attention split between her two passions. She admits to paying close attention to the band, even when she’s temporarily traded in her clarinet for pom poms.
“I get to really enjoy supporting both teams,” she said, adding she receives that same support in return. “During timeouts, when cheer is stunting, and we’re in front of the band section, the band members wave at me while I’m doing my stunts, and they’re like, ‘she’s in my section!'”
Perdue’s love of band and cheerleading goes back to high school. She spent four years marching at her alma mater Asheboro High School, in Asheboro, N.C. However, she wasn’t introduced to cheerleading until her senior year when her English teacher, who was also Asheboro’s cheerleading coach, was in need of a flyer for the squad.
“She knew I loved to dance, and she was like, ‘you’re small, we need you on the team,’ so I joined,” she said.
Perdue honed her new craft and quickly achieved elite-level stunting skills after just a few months on the team. Meanwhile, she was still heavily involved in the marching band. So, instead of choosing between her two passions, Perdue continued supporting the Blue Comets as a cheerleader and band member, marching with her clarinet while wearing her cheerleading uniform on Friday nights.
A year after beginning her cheerleading journey, Perdue tried out for the co-ed squad at Elon, making the team and quickly finding her niche on campus.
“I’ve really built a family out of the cheer team,” she said.
But as her sophomore year began, she found herself in search of an additional outlet, one that would take her back to her musical roots.
“Music expression is just a great way to relieve stress, and I have an incredibly stressful workload this semester,” Perdue said.
That need for musical expression led Perdue to try out for Elon’s wind ensemble. That’s when Band Director Poquette, noticing the cheerleader’s talent, saw another opportunity for her.
“He said, ‘you know? I have an open spot in my marching show,’ and jokingly, I was like, ‘sure, if you don’t mind me marching in my cheer uniform,’ and I didn’t expect him to be like, ‘oh, that would be great!'” she said.
So on Sept. 28, 2019, Perdue marched onto the football field at Rhodes Stadium, donning her cheerleading uniform and carrying her clarinet, just as she did in high school. That day, she played her first show with Fire of the Carolinas as the band marched to tunes like “Twist and Shout” and “Party Rock Anthem” at halftime of the football team’s showdown with rival James Madison.
“It was very nostalgic to be back marching on the field in my cheer uniform,” she said, adding that her high school band director and cheer coach plan to come to Elon to see her play soon. “Being back on the field is like having back that piece that makes me feel unique.”
Perdue’s uniqueness is what made her the perfect fit for Fire of the Carolinas. Poquette says the band’s goal is to encourage and seek out members from different backgrounds to bring a variety of perspectives and school spirit to Saturday’s performances.
“Because Makenzie is such a well-rounded person, she brings a unique personality and unique character to the band,” he said. “As a band director, that’s what we’re looking for, is people to be themselves and be willing to express their feelings and express who they are through their instruments. So because Makenzie is a cheerleader and a clarinetist, it’s a win-win situation.”
Perdue’s personality and dedication have helped her make an impact on the cheer team in her second year with the squad.
“She never backs down from a challenge or an opportunity,” said head cheerleading coach Susan Turner. “When she realized that the band needed a clarinet player, she did not hesitate to become involved after asking her coach if that would interfere with cheer. Playing with the band causes her to miss the rest and refreshments during halftime that the cheerleaders take, but she still chooses to participate in halftime with the band. I appreciate Makenzie’s effort to support both cheer and band.”
For Perdue, school spirit comes easy because Elon is exactly where she wanted to be.
“I really wanted to go to an elite school because I want to be a pediatrician,” said Perdue, who majors in biology with a focus on medical science. “I really fell in love with the campus because it’s a beautiful place, and I especially love the student-teacher ratio because it’s great knowing I can be close to all my professors.”
And as she continues to show school spirit as a cheerleader, clarinetist and student, she’s excited for her future Under the Oaks.
“I just couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” she said. “Just the community around here is great.”