Olivia Cunningham is savoring each and every day of her senior year at Morse High School by making memories with friends and family whenever and wherever she can. One friend the 17-year-old cheerleader always has time for is her 99-year-old great grandmother Eva Wood.
Olivia and Eva (who Olivia lovingly calls Nana) are like two peas in a pod. They live just a few miles from one another in West Bath and both share an incredible bond and love of sports, especially cheering. While they were comparing yearbooks recently, Olivia flipped to a picture of her Nana in her Morse Shipbuilders Athletics cheering uniform from 1941. Eva mentioned she still had it in her attic, and that’s all Olivia needed to hear for images to form in her head of a picture perfect idea between her and the family matriarch.
“I had already planned to do cheering pictures and I thought this is the perfect opportunity to get Nana to come [and take pictures with me],” Olivia says.
Eva and her great granddaughter have been hanging out together since Olivia was in diapers.
“I started babysitting Olivia when I was 84 years old,” Eva says.
The duo has never let their age differences keep them from enjoying each other’s company.
“I have always called her my best friend. I don’t know any person who knows my Nana that doesn’t love her, so it would be hard not to be so close [to her]. It helped that at 94 years old she was trying to jump on the trampoline with me and my brothers,” Olivia adds with a laugh.
Eva, who grew up on a farm and still lives in her childhood home, has always been spry.
“Luckily I’m a healthy person,” she says proudly. “I’ve always kept active. I’ve always done my own yard work and I actually can still run.”
Nana also found she proudly still fit in her cheering uniform from 80 years ago. When Olivia asked her to wear it to the next Morse High School football
game, Eva wasn’t sure what she was in for. However, because it was for Olivia, she willingly said yes.
“I was kind of nervous about it,” Eva admits. “Her uniform is short and mine is down to my knees. I said when I get up to the field with my costume and get next to Olivia in her uniform; they’ll think I’m going to a Halloween party.”
However, not a single fan or athlete, was spooked by her attire. Photographer Wendy Jung of Soggy Dog Designs, who Olivia has worked with over the years, had her camera aimed and ready to capture stunning and sentimental pictures of the duo at the high school football field. It’s a familiar location for these folks.
“The whole family is athletic,” Eva explains. “We’ve all graduated from Morse, four generations. My mother, my two aunts and everyone down the line has played sports.”
Eva participated in every athletic activity available to girls in the late 30s and early 40s.
“It wasn’t like the sports today,” Eva says. “I did hiking, basketball, tennis, tumbling, and swimming. My senior year, there were four of us seniors that wanted to get out there and cheer. All four of us were athletes and that was the only sport we didn’t play. So we thought let’s try out for it.”
Eva and her classmates decided their chances were pretty good at making the cheering squad so they decided to make a daring proposal.
“Nobody ever cheered for out of town games so we kidded with the boys basketball coaches and asked them, ‘If we make the team, can we ride up and cheer for the boys out of town games?’ They said, ‘If all four of you make it, yes,’ ” Eva recalls with clarity. “They never thought all four of us were going to make it. When we did, they were happy for us. They let us ride to one out of town game. They made us sit right behind the bus driver. So they lived up to what they said, but after that the coaches told us, ‘If you want to do it again, you find your own ride.’ ”
Eva says back in her day, they didn’t have routines or stunts. The cheerleaders from the class of 1941 literally cheered and hollered for their school’s team and that was it. Not like the class of 2022 cheerleaders.
“Olivia and the cheerleaders today work so hard. Their routine is unbelievable and their stunts are beautiful,” Eva says admirably before continuing, “If anyone didn’t want to go to watch a game they should go and watch them. I don’t see how they can get any better.”
Olivia, who followed her Nana’s footsteps into the sports of swimming and cheering, couldn’t agree more.
“The [cheering] stunts are my favorite part,” Olivia offers, “When Nana mentioned she cheered, that motivated me to start. I didn’t start cheering until my freshman year, so I was late to the game as well. I always wanted to try it. I’m not as experienced as some of the other girls on my team. But right now during football, we have a half time routine and it is super cool.”
The family matriarch has proven to those around her, time and again, that age is just a number and friendships have no age limits. So what’s her secret?
“Stay close to your family, love each other. Keep moving, stay active and stay involved with them,” Eva explains. “Don’t send them to the game; go to the game with them. Family comes first.”
It’s that type of sage advice that’s kept Olivia and Eva close all these years.
So while many high school seniors are participating in homecoming activities, prom and preparing for graduation events with their best friends and classmates, Olivia is choosing to mark life’s milestones with her all time favorite senior, Nana.
“I love photography and pictures in general so to have pictures of us [in our cheering uniforms] and those memories is something that’s really important to me,” Olivia shares. “I’m very lucky.
Photos by Soggy Dog Designs