Tiffany Null, the daughter of the late former Fort Smith Mayor Ray Baker – undoubtedly the city’s biggest cheerleader – said it is simply in their veins.
“You could say cheerleading is a part of who we are,” said Tiffany. “It has really always been in our lives.”
While attending Northside High School in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tiffany cheered for the Grizzlies. She followed in the footsteps of her aunt Theda Baker Jackson, who was a Northside cheerleader in the 1960s, and her grandmother Helen Westbrooke Baker, who cheered there, as well as the University of Arkansas, in the 1930s.
Tiffany’s cheerleading skills also came from her mother, Nancy Harper Baker, who cheered both at Van Buren High School and Arkansas Tech. Then there is husband Greg’s father, Bob, who cheered at Oklahoma State University.
Carrying on the family legacy are the Nulls’ daughters: Hannah is a senior cheering at Southside High School and sophomore Rachel cheers at Northside.
“We have been traveling to games and competitions to support our girls in cheer since they were little,” said Tiffany. “They both cheered at Chaffin Junior High School and Rachel has been doing competitive cheerleading through ACU (Arkansas Cheer Unlimited) for many years. Both started in gymnastics at an early age, so we have traveled to more meets and sat in more stadiums than we can count. We literally have lived and breathed cheerleading most of their lives.”
The girls’ decision to attend different high schools also continued another Null family tradition – school rivalry. Greg is a Southside graduate and former Rebel football player who met his future wife when she was on the Northside cheer squad. At the time, Tiffany’s father was one of Greg’s teachers. An original member of the SHS faculty, Ray Baker taught history for 44 years until his retirement in 2007.
“Greg had my dad in class back then at Southside when he found out he had a daughter at Northside,” said Tiffany. “He used to torture Dad, telling him he was going to date me, long before he had even met me.”
Greg lived up to his promise and he and Tiffany became high school sweethearts, despite their different mascots. Nearly 20 years later, they passed the rivalry on to the next generation, making football games quite interesting for the family.
“We joke about which side to sit on during games or what school shirt to wear,” said Tiffany. “I really need a jersey with Northside on one side and Southside on the other so I can cheer both of them on equally.”
To help balance the rivalry and number of hours spent at the field, the family opts to only attend home games. Northside and Southside alternate weeks played at home, taking some of the pressure off the Nulls. This year’s highly anticipated Northside-Southside game does pose a new dilemma for the family, though, since Hannah and Rachel will be cheering on different sides of the field.
“We discussed this and decided that since it is at Southside, we will be sitting on the home side in our reserved seats. However, Rachel has warned me that I must wear a Northside shirt to make it fair,” joked Tiffany. “We’ll see how that goes.”
Despite the many long hours on practice fields and in cars on the way to games, the Nulls are very proud of their cheerleader heritage and of the fact that their loyalties extend across the city to both high schools.
“We think it is kind of neat, what we have,” said Tiffany. “It’s with a lot of pride that I say my girls and our family cheer on both schools in our hometown. What we have is quite unique and I am glad that our family continues to cheer on this place that we love so much.”
This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.