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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Parent Cheer Teams

Parent Cheer Teams

The lights dim, as a local gym’s newest squad takes the floor to show off their newly acquired tumbling skills, jumps and stunts. An MC introduces the group as AC/DC’s “Back in Black” begins to rail from the auditorium speakers. A crowd of teenage athletes holds up signs and begins to cheer wildly for individual members of the squad. Someone proudly yells out, “That’s my mom!” and a team of parent cheerleaders begins to perform.

These days, the above scenario isn’t an uncommon one at all-star gyms across the country. In addition to recruiting for their youth rosters, many gym owners have found themselves forming cheer teams comprised of athletes’ parents. Aside from giving cheer parents a means of getting to know one another, the main reason behind creating these teams is to provide parents with an appreciation for what their children do during a typical competitive cheer season.

“Having a parent team is awesome because they actually get a little taste of what their kids go through,” says Alisha Dunlap, owner of Sherwood, AR-based gym Cheer Time Revolution. “It gives them a taste of how much heart and soul their kids put into the sport.”

While parent teams are certainly open to cheer amateurs looking to give their child’s sport a try, many are made up of adults who used to be all-stars and are longing to get back out on the floor. Scott Mizikar, who teamed up with his wife to coach several seasons of HotCheer’s parent team, explains that unlike adolescent cheer teams—which require extensive tryouts—parent teams are more of a laid-back experience. “We had an open sign-up and encouraged the parents to give it a try,” he shares. “While there are some teams that compete, we did it for the sake of doing it as an exhibition.” (This was also the case with Dunlap’s team, who channeled their competitive spirit into showing their stunts during gym-wide showcases.

Lisa Shaw, who owns Unique Sports Academy and directs the Maryland Twisters in Waldorf, was shocked when several of her cheer parents approached her and asked if they could form a parent team last year. “Most of them have full-time careers and children in the program, [so they are] busy,” shares Shaw. “Everybody had so much fun though that we’re going to do it again this year.”

The best part of hosting the team, says Shaw, is the enthusiasm that it adds to the program. “Their exhibition brought not just the Maryland Twisters to come and have a good time, but other gyms as well. Everyone was laughing and clapping and the parents took it very seriously. It takes a little edge off and adds some fun to the sport,” she says.

While some parent cheer teams refrain from competing, Shaw’s team, “Aftermath,” took their matching T-shirts and choreographed routines to last year’s Reach the Beach competition in Oceanside. “The team is asking to do more competitions this year, so we’re going to add another one in this season,” she adds.

In terms of finances, most gyms tend to charge a nominal fee for their parents to participate on the teams, while others absorb the costs themselves. HotCheer co-owner Kelly Makay collected $10/month as tuition from the adults on her gym’s parent team; in addition, she tallied the total cost of purchasing music for their routines ($500 per mix) as well as the exhibition fees (which averaged $150) and divided those costs between the team’s existing members. Though she saw a huge emotional benefit from the team, especially through the bonding between cheer parents that occurred at her gym, she explains that there wasn’t a financial gain to hosting the team.

“The coaches were paid hourly to coach it, staff members were often wrangled into babysitting team members’ children, and it tied up floor space that I could have rented out to high school teams,” she says.

For Shaw’s Maryland Twisters program, she charges her parent teams a small fee for uniforms ($30), competitions ($40) and music ($30), but unlike the HotCheer team, her coaches volunteer their time to coach the parents. “Our parent team doesn’t affect our bottom line,” she adds. “The goal of the parent team is to have fun and get the parents involved in sports.” Such was the case with Cheer Time Revolution’s Dunlap, who didn’t charge her last roster of parent team members. “It was more about giving the parents a means of bonding and to open their eyes to see how much time and effort these kids really put into the sport,” she explains.

While parent teams have proven to enhance a cheer program, gym owners note that they are often difficult to keep running. One of the biggest challenges can be scheduling, according to Mizikar. “These parents are busy with their lives, their families and their jobs, so being able to count on them for weekly practices isn’t easy,” he explains. “When they can’t show up for 3-4 weeks at a time, it makes it hard to put a routine together.”

Recruiting is also difficult, says Dunlap, who saw her team’s roster dwindle just weeks into the season. To combat the attendance issue, Shaw suggests that coaches schedule practices on Sundays or coordinate rehearsals when their children are also practicing at the gym. And, of course, there is the issue of what athletes think about their parents becoming cheerleaders. “Some of the kids loved it, and some are embarrassed to death,” states Mizikar, who suspects that certain HotCheer parents enrolled on his team just to embarrass their kids.

Shaw has found that her Maryland Twisters kids have embraced their parents cheering so much that they’ve jumped at the chance to coach them: “The kids often stay around for the parent practices and you see them going, ‘Get tighter. Lift your legs up higher. Point your toes on your jumps!’ It’s really rewarding for them to see their parents learning the skills that they themselves have already mastered.”

-Nicole Pajer

Our First Year: TNT Cheer

Our First Year: TNT Cheer

Anyone who’s read our “Starting a Gym 101” series on theCheerProfessional website knows that launching a new all-star program can be a massive undertaking—from setting up the logistics to securing the right insurance to attracting clients. To find out what it really takes for a successful start-up, we spoke with three cheer professionals who’ve just completed their first year at the helm. See how TNT Cheer’s first season went…and what they learned.

First Year Case Study #3: TNT Cheer

Location: Waterloo, Iowa

# of athletes: 125

Inspired by her daughter’s involvement, Amanda Freet took over the TNT Cheer all-star program from a trampoline and tumbling gym, because she wanted to take the program to a new level.

CP: What inspired you to open the gym?

Freet: My daughter. She had been doing competitive cheer at a local trampoline and tumbling center here for a couple of years. As a parent, I sat by the sidelines every day at practice, and I didn’t see the program growing, so I asked the owner what I could do to help move it forward. That’s where it started, and from there, I took the three coaches to a USASF regional meeting. We came home so excited and full of ideas.

CP: What were some of the challenges you faced this year?

Freet: First of all, trying to balance being a parent and owning a gym, especially one that your child cheers in. I want to be there to support her, but I also have to do what’s in the best interest of the gym. We were trying to put together a stunt team, and in my heart of hearts, I wanted my daughter to be one of the flyers on the stunt team, but it wasn’t the best decision for her program, so she didn’t fly in it.

CP: Any special goals for the future?
Freet:
It’s all about getting people into the gym and getting people exposed to the gym. Especially here in the Midwest where we’re at, nobody knows about competitive cheer, so right now it’s getting the word out about competitive cheer.

CP: Do you do anything special to get new clients into the gym?
Freet:
Where the competitive program was previously, they just had competitive cheer. We’ve started up a recreational cheer program, and we’ve got almost 100 kids in the recreational program since we opened the doors in October. That gives them an opportunity to come in and try cheer at more of a recreational level, without having the financial and the time commitment that the competitive program has. So that’s been very helpful.

CP: What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about starting a gym?
Freet:
Do your research. Attending the regional meeting through USASF was very eye-opening. It was a great chance to meet different people, and to hear how different gyms started and how they got to where they were. The camaraderie has been amazing for us. I mean, yes, we may be competing against each other [at events], but outside of that competition, you’re calling each other. You’re getting helpful hints from each other, talking about problems and issues that you’ve had within your gym, how you’ve changed things and how you’ve overcome it.

-Lisa Beebe

Wrap the Year Up Right

Wrap the Year Up Right

At Sebring, FL-based Edge Cheer, athletes and their families end the year with a formal banquet full of awards, trophies and certificates. Owner Jenny Rowe says, “In this particular industry where it’s all about the team—and sacrificing and doing what’s best for the team—it’s a really big deal to get to individually recognize the strengths of these kids. We give them an opportunity to stand up in front of their parents and peers, [so they can have] their own particular moment of glory.”

Edge Cheer’s awards include funny categories, like “Most Likely to Get Injured,” as well as superlative awards like “Class Clown.” Rowe says they’re easy to prepare, as many of the awards are simple certificates: “I go to Office Depot and get pre-done certificates and we print them out ourselves.”

The formal banquet takes almost a year to plan, because of the size of the gym (200 athletes, 140 of those all-star). The cost of catering and trophies is funded mainly by ticket sales from an end-of-season recital. Every kid also gets to take home a DVD slideshow of photos taken throughout the season. If organizing a banquet for the first time, Rowe suggests thinking of it as a wedding reception and considering what type of atmosphere you’d like to create. “Do you want something formal? Or do you want something more like a team picnic?”

Karen Brenner of Egg Harbor Township, NJ-based All Star One knows the right answer to that question for her gym. Though this year’s banquet was held at a country club, she plans to borrow an idea from ACX’s Randy Dickey next year and throw All Star One a tailgate banquet with things like a chili cook-off, live DJ and a dunk tank. “We have a huge parking lot, and I know we could make that a great event for our kids, more like a carnival. [Something as formal as a country club] is just not ‘us,’” says Brenner. “The tailgating party is so much more up our alley.”

One of Brenner’s biggest honors she awards is “Team of The Year,” for which she selects the team she was most worried about at the start of the season that has come the furthest by its conclusion. “They get little tiaras with stars on them, like a little crown. They all love that,” shares Brenner. At the banquet, she also distributes branded candy bars with a picture of the team and each athlete’s name, as well as small individual banners that she describes as a “mini-version of a vinyl banner that you’d get when you win a competition.”

Moving Forward

Wrapping up the year doesn’t just mean acknowledging the accomplishments of the year past—it also means planning ahead for the future. One effective way to do that is by conducting a survey to get feedback from athletes and parents on how the season went.

Gerry Richardson, president of Glen Burnie, MD-based East Coast Majestic, uses Survey Monkey to conduct an online survey. She recommends open-ended questions, like: “What do you like best about the gym?” and “If you could change one thing, what would it be?” For Richardson, no question is off-limits, and she advocates other gym owners take the same approach: “If people have thick skin, there’s nothing they shouldn’t ask.”

Richardson asks survey respondents to rank each of the year’s competitions in order of how much they liked them. (“If you get 90 percent of people saying they hated this one competition, you probably should not go to that competition again.”) Richardson also suggests asking athletes, “What level do you belong on?” because it lets her know whether they understand their placement level or not.

Michele Hasson, owner of Pride Cheer & Tumble in Collinsville, IL, conducts prefers in-person and paper surveys to the digital variety. At the end of the season, parents come to a roundtable, during which they are given an option to pick up an additional survey at the front desk. Hasson says, “It’s anonymous except by team, so we can see if there’s a pattern. This team didn’t like this event, or didn’t like this practice day.”

Hasson’s survey is fairly simple. She advises picking five or six things that are important to you as a gym and asking “Yes/No” questions like “Do you feel that the amount of practice time for this team is enough? Do you want weekend practices? Do you feel our attendance policy is fair?”

When conducting a survey for the first time, Hasson recommends including anything you’re thinking of changing for the next season. “For example, if you’re thinking of requiring certain practice clothes for the following season, I think it’s a good idea to get some feedback on that, which is what we did when we started [following that policy],” she shares.

Richardson and Hasson both find an annual survey to be a valuable communication tool between gym owners, parents and athletes.  Opening those lines of communication—even when they’re telling you something you may not want to hear—can help make your gym even more successful moving forward.

-Lisa Beebe

Owner’s Manual: Patrick Fogarty of Cheer World

Owner’s Manual: Patrick Fogarty of Cheer World

Vital Stats

Name: Patrick Fogarty, Co-Owner and Program Director

Gym: Cheer World All Stars

Location: Brecksville, OH

Founded: 2007

Size: 807 athletes

Gym Size: 14,000 square feet

The Debrief: In 2013, Cheer World won the USASF Chairman’s Cup Award, a prestigious award given for outstanding service. Over the years, the gym has donated $200,000+ to Children’s Miracle Network and has also worked with charities like Rush for a Cause and Ronald McDonald House. The efforts have been led by co-owners Patrick Fogarty, A.J. Ganim and Greg Ganim. We spoke with Fogarty to find out why service is such a big part of his gym culture.

The Dish: We have been doing charitable work since the day our doors opened. At Cheer World, we are a family and we believe in being life coaches first and cheer coaches second. To that end, we band together as a family and get involved in our community in any way we can.

Anyone can coach a back handspring. We pride ourselves on working on many other aspects of the kids, not just the athlete. We do it because it’s the right thing to do—both for our involved gym families and the community. Does volunteering at a festival that has families from all over bring attention to our program? Of course. It does bring media attention when you do charity work.

We feel that cheerleaders and community service go hand in hand.  Cheerleaders have great personalities—they light up a room. When you give the kids the opportunity to help other kids, they excel at it.  They love it and feel such a sense of accomplishment in helping; it’s something bigger than them. The athletes build such a sense of how they fit into the fabric of their own communities, and how they can help those around them.

As far as scheduling, it is certainly something to manage, but it’s worth every hour spent. We do a lot of our community service projects in conjunction with our booster club, so we get support and help from our involved parents. It also helps our booster club build relationships with other businesses and programs in our community, which has been helpful.

As far as advice to other gym owners, I would say partner with your booster club. Find a few involved parents and make it an expectation of being a part of your program. Giving back to our community has become as important to our athletes and families as attending practices and learning that next skill. Build it into your culture.

We have a Summer Growth Series, which is a series of events and speakers over the summer. Traditionally, this has only been open to our athletes and kids, but we want to grow it to extend beyond our doors and into our community. We have guest speakers talk about many different things including health and fitness, diet and healthy eating habits, recognizing bullying (and what you can do about it) and other youth-focused topics. We would like to build these talks and seminars into community events where local kids, not just kids in our program, attend and learn. That’s our next focus and hopefully it will be happening this summer.

We tell our athletes and families that it isn’t about what happens on the mat—it is about the footprints we leave when we step off.

A Day in the Life: Debbie Love

A Day in the Life: Debbie Love

8:00 am: I do a devotional every day when I wake up; that’s really important to my life, because I’ve been given all these gifts. Everything I do, I want people to see Christ in me.

8:15 am: One of the first things I do is take care of social media stuff: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Messenger is a new one that’s kind of nice. I’m pretty active on social media, especially for my age! About three years ago I decided to post a tweet once a day, either inspirational or informational, about a skill. I’ve been doing that for three years—it’s called #debtips.

8:45 am: Breakfast! I like oatmeal, fruit and cereal—kind of light [foods]. I like eggs sometimes too, but always stuff that’s good for you. I have rheumatoid arthritis, so I try to stay with a diet that’s going to keep that inflammation down.

9:15 am: Whatever I need to do in the house I do in the morning: letting the dogs out (we have two dachshunds, plus my daughter’s two dogs), writing emails or answering messages—I have tons of them!

11:00 am: Errands, and then lunch; my husband Marcus and I like to get soups and sandwiches. We eat really healthy: a lot of water or hot tea, and lots and lots of fruit. Sometimes I’ll have a little bit of sweet tea.

4:30 pm: Getting ready to go to the gym. I go to GymTyme on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and then I work with University of Kentucky on Mondays and Wednesdays. We have to drive an hour and a half to the gym, so we usually grab a snack right before we go in. Many times we eat on the run at Panera, Whole Foods, Subway….

7:00 pm: All-star practice goes until 9 pm, and then college [practice] is from 9 to 11 pm. The schedule I follow for practices is: a dynamic warm-up, a little bit of cardio, exercises with cardio, and then, right before Worlds, we warm up our separate skills in our routine and our tumbling. Then we do it full out a couple of times, plus any parts that need to be worked on. Ideally, we stretch at the end of practice so they’re not sore for the next one.

11:00 pm: On the road back home to Lexington!

12:30 am: I go to bed pretty late around midnight or 1 am. I get a lot of my work done late at night! I just enjoy it. My mind is freer at night. Before I go to sleep, I’ll re-look at my emails to see if anything new has come in, or sit down and make a to-do list for the next day. I might sit and read a book on kinetics or physiology. I was reading Game of Thrones for a while. That was pretty interesting! I like James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks books, too. Or I’ll watch one of my favorite TV shows. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but sometimes late at night it relaxes me. All of the crime shows like “NCIS,” “Law & Order” and “Criminal Minds” are my favorites. I also enjoy watching movies with my husband. He likes old movies, so we’ve watched Gone with the Wind and all of the oldies. The Sound of Music would probably be one of our favorites!

-Jamie Beckman