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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Heller

Sanaa Johnson Grey balances cheerleading & marching band with ease

Dan Russoman/THG Sanaa Johnson Grey performs during halftime of the Eastern vs. Hammonton football game on Sept. 14.

HAMMONTON—Tucked away in a pleasant corner of Hammonton lives a young woman who’s just as energetic with life as she is passionate about it. Her goals might seem out of reach to some, but with the help of her adoring family coupled with her own tenacity, Sanaa Johnson Grey doesn’t just have a shot at gaining success, she’s seizing it. The ambitious sophomore of Hammonton High School has her eyes set on a future that challenges her constructively while leaving a positive impact on the lives of those in need.

Yet before she does all that, she’s methodically planting the seeds of her success in the form of her school work while juggling two major extracurriculars, marching band and cheerleading, during what’s arguably the busiest time of the year for most American kids participating in those events. This might seem like she’s biting off more than she can chew, but Johnson Grey thrives, even relishes in this demanding environment. Her success in her school work largely boils down to her ability to carefully manage her life both inside and outside the halls of Hammonton High, yet this wasn’t always the case.

“Last year I wasn’t as busy as I was now. I was bad,” she said. “The activities I have now help me focus on school, because last year I had a lot of downtime. So I pushed off doing my work more, because I was like, ‘OK, well I have time, I don’t have anything to do today, I’ll just do it later.’ Then I would try to cram it all in, and then because I would be tired, I would fall asleep in class, or I failed.”

“But because of the relationship I built with my teachers last year, they helped me get the credits that I need in order to not get held back because they knew that I was capable of doing the stuff I wanted to do,” she said.

Johnson Grey’s rocky start would’ve deterred most from continuing on their set path, but this only fueled her ambitions to do better. As such, she quickly reevaluated what she wanted to do and accomplish in high school, and in doing so, she immediately decided to return to her favorite extracurricular, cheerleading. It was familiar to her and it was something she knew it was always fun to do.

“Ever since I was 6, I did cheerleading,” she said. “I missed doing it, and it was something that kinda came naturally to me, even with my gymnastics background. I really enjoy the competitive aspect of it, and I really wanted to cheer for football this year. And having already committed to the marching band’s color guard, as well as practicing all summer, I felt was mentally prepared for that first night where I had to do both.”

And she was. Despite the last minute schedule changes and the hectic nature of Hammonton High’s first game night, Johnson Grey managed her first night with flying colors.

“I was definitely scared to perform, even when they changed the line-up as to who goes first, but I adapted pretty quickly,” she said. “It was all a big blur, kinda like an outer body experience. I felt like I was gonna throw up, but I remained focused and I didn’t mess up. I did my performance for color guard and I did my stunts for cheer. It was one thing after another and I just did. It’s as simple as that.”

Even when all of the nauseous nervousness and adrenaline of that night finally caught up to her when she got home, Johnson Grey composed herself and got ready for school the next day.

“The first step, day, or night of anything new is going to be difficult,” she said. “What matters is your willingness to continue it and to see it through.”

Much of Johnson Grey’s mentality and success can be attributed to her parents. Her father, Alonzo Grey, runs and operates a medical transportation company in Kingston, N.Y. while her mother, Lisa Johnson, is a cafeteria manager for the Pleasantville School District. Both have instilled into Johnson Grey a go-getter attitude that’s certainly driven her to this point, but it’s her mother’s loving passion for her family and her willingness to do anything for them that’s largely at the center of Johnson Grey’s motivations.

“To me, success is family,” Lisa Johnson said. “My motivation that drives my drive is making sure that The Family, the home front, is safe. People think about money and monetary value, and all of that—no. I just like the little things. A home, a roof, food, comfort, fun, games. You know, family. That’s what drives me, and it’s all worth it. It really is.”

And as for Johnson Grey and her future, she’s aiming for a career in the medical field, to be a neurosurgeon, and she has plenty of work ahead of her. The schools she’s hoping to go to are among the best in the country, and it’s likely she’ll have to work even harder to even have a shot at what she wants, but she’s not giving up. She’s determined, she’s motivated, and she’s not giving up her shot.


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