Clanton’s many championship game connections

Published 11:13 pm Thursday, January 10, 2013

Surfside strut: Kristin Nelson performs at a pep rally on Miami Beach leading up to the BCS National Championship game.

Lots of little girls through the years have watched the University of Alabama’s Crimsonettes dance and twirl batons in shiny crimson sequins, or watched the school’s Big Al mascot rouse the crowd at famed Bryant-Denny Stadium, and wished that one day it could be them.

Not many of those little girls have the opportunity to earn roles associated with one of the country’s most recognized programs.

Celebrate good times: Macee Thomas, as Big Al, was on the field to celebrate Alabama’s championship game win over Notre Dame on Monday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

Even fewer get to be part of one of the greatest runs ever in college football.

But there were Chilton County High School graduates Katie Hilyer, Kristin Nelson and Macee Thomas on Monday at the BCS National Championship at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla. as Alabama’s Crimson Tide washed over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 42-14, to win its third national title in four seasons.

Hilyer and Nelson are Crimsonettes, the UA Million Dollar Band’s majorette group, and Thomas is one of the students that assumes the Big Al persona. They’ve had a vantage point as Alabama’s football program has ascended to historic heights.

Nelson’s first year as a Crimsonette saw Bama win the national championship in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. She couldn’t have expected that was the beginning of a run that would produce two more titles, in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in 2011 and then in the Orange Bowl on Monday.

“It’s been picture perfect,” Nelson said of her Crimsonette career. “I can’t think of a better way to end it than in Miami. We cannot believe how blessed we are. We talk about it all the time. And I’ve made some great friends.”

Nelson gained some friends her second year at UA because of the enrollment of Hilyer and Thomas. Nelson and Hilyer twirled together when they were kindergarteners, and Hilyer and Thomas went to pre-school together.

While the Crimsonettes have experienced multiple championship games, the Orange Bowl was Thomas’ first chance to perform on the biggest of college football stages.

Five UA students play the role of Big Al, but only two typically make the trips to bowl games. Which students go is determined by seniority.

“It’s something I’m not going to ever forget,” Thomas said. “I get nervous any time I put on the suit–just the big responsibility it is to represent the University of Alabama.”

All three of the local girls arrived with their respective squads late the night of Jan. 4, the Friday before the game. Leading up to the contest, there was a pep rally on Miami beach, a two-hour practice in a downpour and a special day for Hilyer, who celebrated her 21st birthday on Sunday, the day before the game.

“I kind of got a national championship for my birthday,” she said.