Searching for Alisa: Mystery of a 1986 pompom girl

By Louise Cullen

image captionAnn-Louise Bresnahan found a note in the mystery girl Alisa's jacket pocket

A varsity jacket usually means everything to the American student who wears it.

For Alisa, her blue and yellow jacket, embroidered with her name and title, marked her out as a pep commissioner on the cheerleading team in her high school, back in 1986/87.

She would have organised school rallies and led the cheers, drumming up support for the school's sports teams.

But that was a long time ago for Alisa.

Her jacket has now made it to Omagh in County Tyrone, after Ann-Louise Bresnahan bought it at a vintage fair in Los Angeles last year for her shop.

image captionAnn-Louise and the jacket that set her on a magical mystery tour

And that is where the mystery begins.

'Wee glimpse'

"I really only got round to photographing this piece this year," said Ms Bresnahan.

"I was just fixing the pocket on the jacket and noticed there was a piece of paper inside.

"I opened it up and realised it was basketball cheers, which belonged to the person who owned the jacket.

"It was just one of those finds which gives you a wee bit of a glimpse into the person's life and who may have owned it."

That glimpse started Ms Bresnahan on a determined search to find the original owner, although the information remains scant.

"We think we might have traced it to a Midland Valley High School - there was an Alisa there who was awarded a scholarship," said Ms Bresnahan.

"Lots of people are doing lots of research for us and we've narrowed it down to South Carolina direction, that's where we think it's from now."

image captionCheerleading is alive and well in Omagh

The cheers that were in the pocket were handwritten in neat capitals and carefully folded away.

But at more than 30 years old, cheers have changed since Alisa was making them up.

"They're definitely a lot different," said Clare Haughey of Omagh Panthers Cheerleading.

There was another former cheerleading staple that Ms Haughey was pretty sure Alisa would have been using in 1986.

image captionClare Haughey of Omagh Panthers Cheerleading says it's an athletic sport

"Pompoms would have been a big deal in 1986, definitely at all the basketball matches and even still nowadays in America, at all the sporting events, the cheerleaders will of course have pompoms," she said.

"But there is more to cheer than pompoms. It's a lot more athletic now than it used to be, as they have the tumbling and the stunts and the jumps and the dance.

"Sometimes we still have pompoms, but not as much. Pompoms are kind of a thing of the past."

'Good go'

Pompoms or no pompoms, the opportunity to perform some original American cheers was too good to pass up. Ms Haughey's troupe tried them out.

"The girls weren't too sure how they were going to go because they didn't really rhyme and they had to make up their own movements to go with them. But they gave it a good go," she said.

image captionThe basketball cheers on a note in the pocket suggest Alisa was a cheerleader

"We've only been going five years so for us to even get the chance to try out some of their chants, the girls thoroughly enjoyed it."

Meanwhile, the search for Alisa goes on.

"It would be really exciting," said Ms Bresnahan.

"I would obviously see if she would want it returned to her. It's something from her teenage years and it might have meant something to her.

"She's obviously been parted from it in some way.

"And if she does want it back, I'd be more than happy to return it to its rightful owner."

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