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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

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.

Our First Year: Ideal Cheer Elite

Our First Year: Ideal Cheer Elite

Anyone who’s read our “Starting a Gym 101” series on the CheerProfessional 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 Ideal Cheer Elite’s first season went…and what they learned.

First Year Case Study #2: Ideal Cheer Elite

Location: Duluth, Minnesota

# of athletes: 60

 Chelsie Waller and her co-owner Ashley Penny are bringing legitimate all-star cheerleading to the Duluth area for the first time—and working with local families to realize its potential.

CP: You bill yourselves as the first USASF gym in Duluth. Has that helped you position yourself and get more credibility?

Waller: Being the first USASF-registered gym in the Duluth area is a really great credential. It catches people’s ear and makes them want to learn more, and kind of validates what we’re doing. However, with the exception of a small rec-style league about 40 miles away, there’s never been an all-star program in Duluth. So when we say we’re the first USASF-registered gym, a lot of people don’t know what that means. We’re doing a lot of educating.

CP: How did you first get started?

Waller: To properly convey passion, you need to meet people face to face. In March, we had a couple meetings where we invited parents, athletes and potential coaches to come in and meet us. At that point, we already had a lot of our business stuff lined up—we had tryout packets set, costs set, uniform prototypes. We did as much as we could to get them to catch onto this craze that we’re so excited about.

CP: What was your biggest challenge along the way?

Waller: For us, it’s a constant struggle explaining to people what all-star is. Even when they see the things we do on the news, read about us in the newspaper or come to an exhibition, people still don’t necessarily get it. We had someone come in to one of our open gyms and ask what color our pompons were. So it’s been about branding all-star and getting people excited about it as a competitive athletic sport.

CP: What advice would you give someone who’s preparing to open a gym?
Remember that if you’re opening a gym, you’re opening a business. We cheer people get so passionate and so busy with the uniforms and the coaching and the choreography, music and competitions [that] it’s easy to leave behind the business aspect—and it’s very important not to do that. I think it’s important for anyone that wants to open a gym to know that you do not need to do it all by yourself, nor should you. As a business, you should hire an attorney, an accountant, a bookkeeper and a payroll service. Don’t be afraid to ask for help on the business side.

CP: What have you learned this year?
We learned the hard way that if you don’t tell parents that they can’t do something, they probably will. We never thought to make it a point to tell people that they can’t put our logo on things until we went to a competition, and there was a group of parents that had hand-drawn our logo onto some T-shirts using puff paint and spray paint. We kind of looked at each other in horror, because there was nothing in our code of conduct or gym rules that they couldn’t do this. So we’ve learned to make a rule for everything, even if it seemed silly.

CP: What are your goals for year two?
Growth. 100% growth.  I’m looking to grow the program in athletes, looking to grow the program in teams, I’m looking to grow my athletes in skills, and I’m looking to get the teams to grow closer. We didn’t do a lot of outside bonding events last year, and that’s a shame, so it’s definitely something I’m focusing on this year.

-Lisa Beebe

Our First Year: Pittsburgh Pro All-Stars

Our First Year: Pittsburgh Pro All-Stars

Anyone who’s read our “Starting a Gym 101” series on the CheerProfessional 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.

First Year Case Study #1: 

Location: Imperial, PA

# of athletes: 21

Though it’s not technically Pittsburgh Pro’s first year in business (the gym is actually in its fifth year), first-year cheer director Paige Crimson Priano and two other programs had to start the program from scratch last season with just 10 athletes. The previous year, the gym had about 40 girls, but they all quit and went to different gyms, except for one veteran. Find out how this fledgling program is reinventing itself:

CP: How has your first year in charge of the program gone?

Priano: We got a group of 10 girls that we kept through the whole year—we just had one team. It was a good start for us to see we can handle one team, and now we know we can handle more.  We had a youth Level 1 team, so they were all babies and so eager to learn.

CP: What has been your top priority this year?

Priano: After I took the title of program director, the biggest change I made was communication. I sent at least one email every month to make sure everyone knew the dates coming up. By the end of the season, I was sending weekly emails. Communication helped build our relationship with the parents. I feel like I know every single parent now, and I want to keep that [momentum] going.

CP: Can you tell us about how your “Become a Pro” camp helped grow the program?

Priano: We were supposed to have our last competition in April but had to reschedule it, so we had the whole month of April open, still with only 10 girls. We were trying to think of ways to get our name out there, and I came up with a “Become a Pro” camp. The flyer said, “Try it before you buy it.” The camp was every Tuesday in April for two hours; we taught the girls all the basics of all-star cheer so they could see if it’s the sport for them. 

CP: What advice would you give someone starting a new gym?

Priano: You have to be organized. I keep a lot of lists. Being organized in your brain is one thing, but being able to see it on paper really makes a difference for me.

CP: What’s something you’ve learned this year?

Priano: Halfway through the season, we realized we were focused on the wrong thing with our girls. The girls were hitting the routines every single competition, but they were leaving feeling defeated, just because they didn’t get first. So we switched from focusing on placement to focusing on the improvements they made from the last competition, and not letting the judges’ decisions affect the girls.  Now, they feel more in control.  We didn’t win our big competition at nationals, but we ended up leaving that competition feeling better than ever because of the improvements they made.

-Lisa Beebe

When Two Become One: Dissolving a Partnership

When Two Become One: Dissolving a Partnership

Like the splitting up of once head-over-heels newlyweds, the parting of ways in business is often tricky, sad and more than a little complicated. Add in the complexities of an all-star cheer business, and breaking up can get downright sticky.

So what happens when one of the partners of an all-star gym wants to retire or pursue other passions?

Legal experts advise not waiting until one person is ready to retire—or wants out—to discuss what will happen with your beloved gym. Business litigator Jay McDaniel, founder of the McDaniel Law Firm, P.C. says it’s imperative to think about not just getting into a business but getting out of it—especially when it comes to cash.

“The cost of not having planned for the exit as one of the principal owners of the business is usually multiples of hundreds of what it would have cost to have done it at the time,” he says.

For Freedom Athletics, Inc. founder and owner Nancy McDowell, buying out her partner in 2006 was pretty straightforward and snag-free, even though she and her partner had never discussed what might happen with the gym if either coach wanted out. At the time they started Freedom from scratch in 2003, McDowell says, “it was just bubblegum and lollipops. We were coaches. And we had all these kids and it was awesome.”

Fast-forward three years, and McDowell’s partner decided she wanted to pursue other career paths. Fortunately, she says, the gym’s attorney was a family member, so the transfer of ownership was seamless. And according to McDowell, there has never been a hint of ill will: “We have a very good relationship. She’s done choreography for me [since the split], so it worked out really nicely.”

D.S. Briggs, Tumbling Director of Metro East St. Louis-based Pride Kids Sports Center, has a different perspective on buyouts. Years ago, he was a staff member of a buyout that was initially treated like a merger so as not to lose key support from its team families and community. In that situation, the gym he was employed by wasn’t necessarily looking to buy or acquire another program, but when they were approached by another gym to join forces to compete with a mega-gym moving into the area, the merger worked—at first.

“Maybe about a year or two later, we ended up buying the program out completely [rather than being equal partners] because things had deteriorated to the point they had no option but to sell,” he says.

Briggs says to make these types of buyouts work, the new owner needs to be sensitive to just who the “old” gym was. “The gym that is taking over has to respect the client and the culture of the smaller gym,” says Briggs. “It takes time to assimilate a whole gym culture into a different culture; it can’t be rushed into or expected to survive without hard work by the perceived leaders in both gyms.”

And, as always, communication is key, says Briggs. “You have to have a lot of open honest discussion about the goals, hopes and dreams, and what really are the personal dreams and philosophies of both programs,” he explains. “You have to figure that out right from the beginning. Otherwise, it’s not going to work at all.”

And when it comes to what McDaniel calls “business divorce” (when one partner wants out), he says most business owners don’t prepare for it when they are just starting out. In his experience, only about 25 percent of his clients have given it real thought. Most, he says, find it difficult to focus on an event that could be 25 years away. “The idea is, ‘we will deal with it someday’ or ‘yeah that’s a good idea’. [They always say], ‘We’ll get back to you,’” shares McDaniel.

Avoid that trap and start planning now for a smooth exit with these helpful tips:

1.   Put in agreements to buy and sell. “You come to agreements on how you are going to value the business and you put in place funding for it,” says McDaniel. “That way, the person who stays has funds to buy the other person out.”

He adds that one effective way to do that is by taking out life insurance policies on the principals of the company. With that method, if one of the co-owners dies, the business will have the proceeds of the life insurance policy to pay their family the value of their share of the company.

And when it’s time for retirement, the business will have the cash value of the life insurance policy to pay the retiring partner or withdrawing partner.

2. Incorporate a deadlock clause. McDaniel also suggests putting a deadlock clause into a well-drafted business plan, which can save a lot of heartache down the line. “It basically says that if we can’t agree, then I can make an offer to buy a proposal,” he says.

3. Steer clear of a DIY split. Things can get particularly dicey when the people splitting up attempt to do it themselves. That’s a big no-no, according to McDaniel: “Never do it yourself. About half of my litigation cases come from do-it-yourself business entities. Get a decent lawyer.”

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. In McDowell’s case, she feels fortunate the process went so smoothly. A key ingredient, she stresses, was talking through everything from the beginning. “Be very honest and upfront from the get-go. Be very clear about what you want. And put it in writing.”

-Lindsay Martell

Private Lessons: A Primer

Private Lessons: A Primer

The good news: Private lessons can certainly add an extra layer of perceived value for gym clientele. The bad news: at times, offering privates can also add more hassle for gym owners between scheduling, pay structure, and other considerations. However, in the end, most gym owners, coaches and parents agree that private lessons offer an array of benefits that make it worth the effort. Find out how gyms around the country handle this popular revenue stream:

About Time

The trickiest aspect of offering private lessons in a gym, most say, is scheduling. Some gyms have set times at which the lessons can be offered, while others leave it up to coaches to handle their own schedule.

At the Wilson School of Gymnastics, Cheer and Dance in Chambersburg, Pa., coaches have freedom to schedule their own private lessons—within reason. According to team coordinator Rachel Roberts, privates can’t be scheduled during class times, so most coaches arrange them immediately before or after the student’s team practice.

At Virginia-based Cheer Extreme Roanoke, coaches also have liberty with scheduling, and several use business cards to help parents contact them for privates. Gym owner Bobby Lozano offers assistance with scheduling and pairing up people for privates. “Parents will come to me and say, ‘My daughter wants to work on her back handspring. Who does a really good job working with that age group and skill?’” Lozano says. “I figure out who would best suit that child [and his/her needs].”

Kristen Shimmel, a coach with Cleveland-based X-Cel Athletics, says scheduling is the responsibility of the coaches, but it’s not always easy. “At our gym, the space is always utilized by squads or tumbling classes, so private lessons use whatever free space is available at any one time,” she says. “Space is often an issue, but you just have to get creative!”

Private Benjamins

Where gyms vary more widely in handling private lessons is how coaches are paid. Some gyms allow coaches to keep 100 percent of the earnings as a means of supplemental income (and extra incentive), whereas other gyms take a cut of the cost or expect the coach to do privates as part of their existing salary.

For instance, X-Cel Athletics pays its coaches, including Shimmel, through the gym’s payroll. At Wilson and CEA Roanoke, coaches are paid directly by parents, although both Roberts and Lozano say there is a standard rate for the lessons. And at Georgia-based Renegade Athletics, private lessons are simply another way coaches earn their hourly salary.

“All of our privates are scheduled and paid through the gym,” explains owner Leslie Pledger-Griffin. “Instructors make their hourly pay regardless of what they are doing—office work, tumbling class, privates lessons, teams or whatever.

Lozano says payment for privates used to go through the gym, but the coaches now make 100 percent. “Coaches do the work for it and deserve the money,” he says. “The added incentive for coaches to work more privates is that they’re getting the full amount of money. In the end, it benefits the gym because the kids they are working with cheer for us.”

Why Privates Matter

Offering privates can help assure parents as to the one-on-one attention and education that their child is receiving—helping to ensure gym retention. For Wilson parent Beverly Musgrave, private lessons are a welcome aid to her daughter’s skill development. “The one-on-one time gives her the chance to really concentrate, and focus more on what the coaches are asking her to do,” Musgrave says.

Gym owners and coaches can also use private lessons to help the team at large—targeting needed areas of improvement. For instance, when Roberts was prepping her athletes for U.S. Finals this spring, she worked privately with one particular athlete to nail a key tumbling skill. “We had one athlete who was extremely inconsistent with her standing tuck,” says Roberts. “She wanted to be really sure she was going to hit.”

For Renegade Athletics, privates are about supply and demand. “Our office always tries to push classes over privates, but some parents and kids are insistent so we try to fulfill that demand,” shares Pledger-Griffin.

Regardless of the reasons, private lessons offer lasting benefits for both gyms and athletes. “At Cheer Extreme, we’ve done privates forever,” says Lozano. “It’s the best way, I think, to communicate with kids. You build bonds on a one-on-one basis.”

-Jennifer Deinlein 

Getting to the Point(s)

Getting to the Point(s)

When Randy Dickey, owner of South Carolina-based ACX Cheer and head of the All- Star Gym Association, unexpectedly had to fly a photographer to an event, the exorbitant price of the airline ticket stunned him. But when he pulled out his credit card, he solved the problem—without spending a dime.

Ever since Dickey first signed up for the American Express Platinum Business Card in 1999, he has been covering gym expenses and reaping significant benefits. “We run everything in the business through the credit card,” says Dickey. “Every month, we rack up several hundred thousand points and use them to pay for everything from flights to hotels, as well as to offset the cost of coaches’ and team rooms.”

For those gyms looking to follow in his cost-saving footsteps, expert Eric Rosen advises evaluating your spending habits before applying for a points-based credit card. “Look at what your typical expenses are,” says Rosen, managing editor of ThePointsGuy.com. Some cards focus rewards on category spending (awarding cash back or merchandise for specific purchases); other cards provide airline miles and cover hotel costs.

For gyms that travel to competitions mostly by car or bus, a card that offers cash back on gas purchases makes good sense, according to Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. On the other hand, frequent flyers might want to consider a card that offers airline miles and/or hotel perks. A co-branded card, one that has a relationship with both airlines and hotels, can also offer some incredible benefits. “If you do a lot of traveling by air, over the course of time, you’ll get some great rewards,” he says.

The same idea applies to hotels. For instance, if you always book rooms at a Marriott, having their card may mean some extra nights for free. “You have to have a feel for what you are hoping to get out of a card. Knowing how you are going to use the card should determine which one you select,” Schulz notes, adding that having separate cards for airfare and hotel can help to maximize the rewards. Also, using a card with transferable points means you’ll have more options when it comes to redeeming those points.

Although charging all your gym-related purchases with the goal of getting something free in return is a great idea, Schulz emphasizes the importance of paying off the entire balance every month. “If you don’t, interest charges will make any rewards less of a bargain,” he warns. Also, keep in mind the difference between a charge card and a credit card: a charge card gives the user bigger spending power, but requires full payment every month or a hefty fee and penalties will be assessed. A credit card has pre-set spending limits—carrying a balance will incur interest, but the amount will not be as taxing as the charge card fee/penalties.

The Fine Print: Fees, Bonuses and Penalties

Most credit cards carry an annual membership fee, and those that don’t typically offer fewer and smaller rewards. Fees often range from $50 to $450+ and usually determine the value of the benefits. “If there is a $100 fee and you get a free bag check every time you travel, this could be worth it for [gym owners] that fly a lot,” Schulz notes. “But if the fee is $500 and you travel sporadically, it’s not a good deal. You need to look at terms and conditions and do a little math.” It can certainly be beneficial to have more than one card, but if you are paying a fee on several and only using one, you should reevaluate your strategy.

In addition to reaping travel and accommodation perks, some cards offer rental car insurance and lost luggage coverage, access to airline lounges and other amenities. In many cases, extra rewards like these can offset the cost of fees. Also, almost all cards have bonus signups, so you could earn as many as 50,000 free airline miles from the start. “You should wait until a good offer comes along,” Rosen says, cautioning that most of these cards come with minimum purchase requirements.

Also, gyms that compete overseas (including Mexico and Canada) may incur foreign transaction fees if they use their credit cards for purchases. “What many people don’t realize is that, even if you are in the United States and you purchase something from another country, you may be charged a foreign transaction fee,” warns Rosen.

When it comes to signing any financial document, experts emphasize the importance of reading the fine print. Dickey learned this lesson the hard way: “When I rent a vehicle with my American Express Platinum, I can [take advantage of] car insurance,” he explained. “But at one point I realized that they don’t cover 15- passenger vans and large SUVs.”

Using a credit card wisely can be a cost-effective way to run your gym. “You’re spending the money anyway,” says Rosen. “Why not look for ways to get a return on it?” Just ask Dickey. Based on personal experience, he asserts that every gym owner should be using reward points: “If you’re not, you are just giving money away.”

-Phyllis Hanlon

Visit our blog this Thursday for a list of credit card recommendations from The Points Guy’s Eric Rosen!

Go, Go Gadget! MyoSource Kinetic Bands

Go, Go Gadget! MyoSource Kinetic Bands

For our “Go, Go Gadget!” review feature, we asked the athletes at Oklahoma Twisters to road test the MyoSource Cheer Kinetic Bands.

What It Is: Designed to improve jumps, flexibility and overall performance, MyoSource’s Cheer Kinetic Bands are leg resistance bands geared at ages seven and higher. They come in two sizes (for those under and over 110 pounds). The product also comes with a flexibility stretching strap (available in four colors) that can help ease stress on joints and provide a practice tool for scorpions and heel stretches.

Our Testers: Athletes at Oklahoma Twisters (Oklahoma City), led by coach Craig Hallmark

How and why they used them: According to Hallmark, jumps have always been one of the strong points of the Oklahoma Twisters program—and he’s open to anything that helps lengthen that legacy. “I liked the idea of Cheer Kinetic Bands because it adds another layer to make our jumps even stronger,” he shares. “When I work with [external] programs on choreography, it always surprises me how much poor technique there is on jumps and that people don’t spend more time on them. At Oklahoma Twisters, we spend at least 30 minutes during every practice.”

For the purposes of the product test, Hallmark introduced the Cheer Kinetic Bands during private jump and tumbling instruction with various athletes from ages 8-14. “We started by doing kicks, then did jumps, followed by conditioning at the end,” shares Hallmark.

What they loved: Hallmark says he prefers Cheer Kinetic Bands to similar products he’s tried in the past. “The other ones we’ve used had a thicker Velcro thing and it was more of a nuisance,” shares Hallmark. “I liked that the Cheer Kinetic Bands had interchangeable bands with differing resistance, making it accessible to more age groups. It allows for a wide range of athletes to use the product.”

What they thought could be improved: “Some of the kids who are small for their age group had a problem keeping the Velcro on; it was slipping down just a little bit, so we’d have to readjust and tighten up again,” says Hallmark. “However, I recognize that it can be difficult to target a whole age group.” Hallmark is also curious to see how the longevity of the product stacks up: “These bands are thinner than those I’ve used in the past—that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m eager to see how the wear-and-tear is.”

The verdict: Though some of the athletes were skeptical at first, their reactions were positive after testing Cheer Kinetic Bands. “I heard athletes saying things like, ‘These are really going to help my jumps,’” says Hallmark. “In the end, I think these bands will help build muscle memory and strengthen the muscles that are needed for jumps. Repetition will be key—using them over and over again—and I plan to use them as a station when we do conditioning, as well as in privates.”

How to get it: www.myosource.com/cheer-kinetic-bands/


Do Dance Teams Equal Dollar Signs?

Do Dance Teams Equal Dollar Signs?

Could the addition of a dance program be something to cheer about at your all-star gym? The sector has certainly seen significant growth in the last five years, with the debut of the Dance Worlds in 2008 and many gyms introducing dance teams and programs. USASF dance committees were formed in 2011 to help foster that growth, and 25 event producers are now on board giving bids to Dance Worlds. 

Being part of this emerging trend comes with both risks and rewards for any gym. Though a dance program can diversify your offering and/or boost your bottom line, it’s important to consider elements like scheduling issues, staffing and costs involved. Incorporating dance teams might not be the right move for every gym owner, so it’s important to know the pros and cons before jumping headfirst into those waters.

Rockville, MD-based Shockwave Allstars started offering dance teams and classes last season. Owner Jessie Leone opened the gym with his wife Carrie almost four years ago, and they now have 15 cheer teams, nine dance teams and 410 total athletes in their 15,000 sq.-ft. facility. “My wife runs a very tight ship when it comes to customer service, and we felt that we could bring that same level of commitment to the dance industry,” says Leone. “We also felt it would be a great complimentary use for our facility.”

One of Leone’s top pieces of advice is to “consider whether you can offer a great product with solid margins that can lead you to profitability.” At Shockwave, the Leones incurred a significant amount of build-out expense when they added studios, but because they didn’t expand the facility, the effort didn’t raise their operating expenses other than staffing

Two locations and 275 athletes strong, CNY Storm is now in its 18th year, and owner Kathy Penree added dance teams five years ago when an existing program that already had dance teams in place joined theirs. Though the addition of dance teams hasn’t yet increased profitability for the gym, Penree believes it’s been beneficial as a way of “giving our athletes another outlet for their talent.”

Fitting the Puzzle Pieces Together

Over at Ultimate Athletics of Ohio, co-owners Denise Haase and Ryhannon Haase-Johnston introduced dance teams six seasons ago. Haase-Johnston oversees the dance program at the gym, while her mom focuses on cheer. The mother/daughter team started with a small dance program offering substantial crossover tuition cuts, which facilitated growth into a larger program. Now that the program is well-established, local dance studios have been coming to Ultimate Athletics for guidance and advice, and going on to compete at all-star competitions.

So how does Ultimate do it? A whopping 75 percent of their athletes participate in both cheer and dance. “We make tuition affordable and really try to balance the practice schedules to accommodate those athletes so they aren’t in the gym seven days a week,” Haase-Johnston explains.

They also try to maximize resources in other areas; for instance, the uniforms and costumes have become multi-purpose as a means of keeping overhead low while still looking professional at competitions. “One unique thing we do to cut back on costs is use our cheer top for our pom teams and pair them with black jazz pants and a mesh leotard to cut down on uniform prices,” says Haase-Johnston.

The tactics seem to be working, as the program has gotten bids to the last three years of Dance Worlds. In May, the gym will be merging with Tumble Athletics to become the newest franchised location of Midwest Cheer Elite—and they hope the dance program will continue to grow. “I wish more gyms could see the potential in turning cheer athletes into dancers,” Haase-Johnston says. “With the right training, it works and gives them an option to express themselves in a different way.”

Scheduling & Staffing 

Like Haase-Johnston, Leone of Shockwave sees dance as a growing sector of the cheer world and a great way for a gym to reach a wider market—provided owners have the right infrastructure in place. However, unlike Ultimate Athletics, they try to have their athletes choose between cheer and dance. “Otherwise, when you get close to competition and start scheduling extra practices, it will become an issue,” says Leone.

At Penree’s CNY Storm, most of her dancers are also cheerleaders, so practice days and times are separated out so that most athletes have a break. “It also teaches those athletes time management skills,” Penree says. However, she adds that competition scheduling can be tough—dance is usually at the beginning or end of the day, making it a long day for any crossover athletes. Smaller competitions can also be a challenge, since there is very little time for costume and makeup changes.

Another top consideration is staffing. Many gym owners stress the importance of not having coaches do too much double-duty, as it can lead to scheduling problems and burnout. One solution is to bring in dedicated dance coaches who can focus on that aspect of the program—for gym owners who are able to find the finances, it can be a huge plus.

Ultimately, the way a dance program is run is up to each individual gym owner, because what works for one gym may not click with another. Consider the infrastructure you have in place, your gym’s finances and your future plans carefully before you commit. If a dance program makes sense for your business, it could be well worth the risks. “Every time a new child joins the gym, your profit margins should be the same for cheer as well as dance,” says Leone. That way, “as an owner you do not care which one they join—only that they join your gym family.”

-Dina Gachman

Mission: Fulfillment

Mission: Fulfillment

It may sound like just another trendy buzzword, but “volun-tourism” is a very real trend. A 2008 study by Tourism & Research Marketing found that an estimated 1.6 million volunteer tourists take “ethical” holidays where they have an opportunity to experience another culture while performing philanthropic actions. Yet another 2008 survey by University of California-San Diego researchers found that 45 percent of Americans said they’ve considered taking volunteer vacations, and 72 percent knew someone who had been a global volunteer. If you’re thinking about joining their ranks, get inspired by these three inspiring stories from cheer professionals who’ve been there and done that: 

Bringing Cheer to Belize: Virginia Baldwin

In 2013, Virginia Baldwin, owner of All-American All Star Cheerleading and coach at Mechanicsville, VA-based Hanover High School, traveled with her two daughters and several athletes to Belize, where they conducted youth cheer camps and engaged in community service projects. In a country that places little value on females, Baldwin was gratified to help to raise self-esteem and put smiles on young faces through individualized attention—and some cheer bows. “To see the joy in these little girls’ faces is a beautiful thing. We think we are changing someone else’s life, but our lives are the ones that are changed,” she says. “A little piece of my heart is in Belize.”

Baldwin’s life-changing experience inspired her high school cheerleaders to climb aboard. Last year five of them accompanied her; this year, 10 will make the trip. “To take kids from upper middle-class families to a third world country is eye-opening for them. They see what these kids eat and how they live—but they bond like you can’t imagine,” she says. “I hope the lesson is something that will carry through to adulthood. It’s all about loving one another. There’s no better way to do this than to spend time with someone in need.”

Back home, the experiences in Belize have restored Baldwin’s love for cheer. “It’s given me a new vision for the way I coach. It’s not just about winning. It’s about self-worth. I love having the privilege to coach and want to mentor young girls, to let them know someone believes in them,” she says. “It brings us back to center and makes us realize what’s truly important in life.”

Getting Schooled in Bolivia: Sydney Cottle

The spirit of giving comes naturally to Sydney Cottle. A cheerleader and senior at Portland, OR-based Lake Oswego High School, she participates in the Susan G. Komen Cheer for a Cure event, ties fleece blankets and donates them to the Portland Rescue Mission and volunteers every Sunday with Team Shine (Oregon’s first cheer team for athletes with special needs). But she sought something more. That “something” became a three-week trip with Humanitarian Experience for Youth (HEFY) to Bolivia, where she helped construct a school and worked at an elderly care facility.

During her stay, she and 20 other teens from across the country engaged in some heavy-duty construction work. “Things were very prehistoric there. We didn’t have any big machines to mix cement; everything was done by hand,” says Sydney’s mom, Michelle Cottle, who accompanied the group as a parent helper.

In addition to intense labor, the group played with the Bolivian children and attempted to teach them the English alphabet. Even though Spanish is the country’s native language, the language barrier proved to be only a minor challenge.

Originally intended as a way to initiate change outside of her immediate community, the trip fostered a transformation in Sydney. “I’m a lot more grateful for what I have. These people have so little, but they always manage,” she explains. “I’m happier and more outgoing. Just to see what others go through on a daily basis is eye-opening.”

From Reluctant to Rewarded: Melanie Randolph

Unlike Cottle, Melanie Randolph was not initially sold on the idea of an overseas mission trip. “I thought staying at a Holiday Inn was roughing it,” says Randolph, who owns Danville, CA-based Spirit Force Cheer & Dance. But she changed her mind when she and her husband were recruited by a missionary in 2007 to travel to Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. There they taught Christian drama stories in several gypsy villages and also helped feed the citizens; the trip was so impactful that they made it an annual endeavor from 2007 to 2011.

In retrospect, Randolph emphasizes that she received ten-fold back what she gave to the Bulgarian people. “God’s given me so much. All I can give them is me,” says Randolph, who is a member of the Christian Cheerleaders of America (CCA) advisory board. “I’ve gotten more out of it than they did.”

Randolph also points out that the experience for the children who also made the trip with Macedonian Outreach was life-changing. “To get the kids to experience this is very important. It took me almost 50 years to do something like this. Imagine what I could have done if I started earlier,” she says. “When you step outside your comfort zone, it changes your heart.”

Expansion Case Study: Stingrays

Expansion Case Study: Stingrays

Creating a thriving program is often the impetus for starting an all-star cheer gym—but what happens when that accomplishment generates considerable demand? Many business owners answer the call for expansion and go on to open multiple locations. To learn more about this approach, CheerProfessional asked three gym owners who took the leap and expanded based on their own initial success. Learn how the Stingrays tackle the challenge while maintaining the integrity of their brand.

Expansion Case Study #1: Stingray Cheer Company, Inc.
Locations: 4 (Georgia and Alabama)
Combined Number of Athletes: 1500+

Casey Jones, owner of Stingray Cheer Company, Inc., talks about his gym’s growth to meet the needs of the community and his staff.

CP: Tell us about the various Stingrays locations.

Jones: We now have four locations including our new gym in Alabama, which will open in May 2014. The other three locations are in Georgia—Marietta and Johns Creek, as well as one overflow gym in Kennesaw.

CP: How do you typically split your time between locations?

Jones: Right now I work at two locations—Marietta and Kennesaw—because that’s where I live. I go to Johns Creek one day a week. We haven’t taken over the Alabama location yet so there hasn’t been a need for me to travel there.

CP: Take us through your expansion history into a gym with multiple locations.

Jones: We started in Marietta, and before opening any additional locations, we wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could there. But we had maxed out our space and it was time to grow.

CP: Was it a function of supply-and-demand, too? How did expansion into Alabama come into play?

Jones: Our All-Star program grew by 200 kids with Johns Creek so we decided to open Kennesaw as overflow. Kennesaw is only five miles away from the Marietta facility; they really function as one gym. Alabama was different—we had a long relationship with the gym there, so we partnered with them before taking over entirely.

CP: What do you perceive as the main risk when it comes to expansion?

Jones: The biggest risk is growing too quickly. You have to have the resources to service the locations (resources being time, funding and staffing). If you don’t, it’s best not to do it at all. For us, I look at the demographics of an area and the population. How many kids are there? How many schools? Is there opportunity to work with the school system, which in turn will feed our all-star programs? But overall, [my advice is to] grow slow and expand when you have to. I’m conservative: as I’ve gotten older in the industry, I just don’t want to chance it [failing at business].

CP: What makes Stingray Cheer Company so successful?

Jones: We wanted to offer a great product and now, with our growth, we are able to offer more people access to Stingray Cheer. We also wanted to provide career opportunities for our instructors and employees; our growth creates that for them.

Candid Coach: Jackie Lindom

Candid Coach: Jackie Lindom

At this stage in her cheer career, Jackie Lindom does it all. Besides managing the Twisters Elite Cheer & Dance Gym in Lake Villa, Ill., Lindom also coaches, helps with choreography for various teams and judges for Xtreme Spirit and several rec competitions. (Oh, and she is just 21 years old.) Having been a cheerleader since age five, Lindom made the transition from competitor to coach/gym manager shortly after competing at Worlds in 2010 and has continued to expand her role—inside the gym and out—throughout the years.

As yet another busy season comes to a close, we caught up with Lindom amid her jam-packed schedule to discuss her career, her balance techniques and her affinity for the sport.

How did you make the transition from athlete to cheer professional? 

Lindom: As an athlete during my last three years cheering (up until when I was 18), I was always helping out at the gym. My coach on Senior 5 brought me up and transitioned me into the coaching aspect. I worked my way up and coached the Tiny Team for two years, then coached minis while still on Senior 5. After I competed in Worlds in 2010, they hired me [as an employee]. Just being in the gym and learning under my Senior 5 coach taught me everything I needed to know. I’m passionate about my job.

Share more about your various roles and how much time they each take.

Lindom: My number one [focus] right now is Twisters. I pay most of my attention to the gym, making sure it is running smoothly and that the athletes are doing everything they should. I am still very much involved in choreography, traveling all over the place for school and rec teams. I also helped out with skill clinics over the summer; we hosted one at Twisters, and Gabie Dinsbeer, Erica Englebert and a few other “cheerlebrities” came in. I got to work side-by-side with the best of the best. I also judge every weekend. (I didn’t have a free weekend from February through Memorial Day!)

What are your tips on balancing various facets of a cheer career?

Lindom: I just like to go with the flow. I am always just crazy busy; it’s normal [for me]. I do take on a lot, but I get it over with and do the best I can.

What do you think would help improve the competition experience on both sides (for judges and teams)?

Lindom: I think overall, all judges should be trained better on the [specific] scoresheet that they are judging from. I know there are coaches and judges who judge across the board for [various] companies, but I don’t think that some of them have the best knowledge on [every] scoresheet. More training is necessary.

What issue seems to come up often with parents in your gym, and what’s your top tip for handling it?

Lindom: There are always parents complaining or getting into drama with the other parents. I try to stay out of drama, and I handle each situation differently. Some require immediate attention; others fizzle out a little bit [over time]. Parents are irritated at that moment and they want to snap at you, [but ultimately] it’s not that big of a deal.

What makes the hard work worth it?

Lindom: As a coach, I’m passionate about seeing my athletes on stage—it’s a breath of fresh air. They practice so hard to be on the mat for 2.5 minutes, and [the reward is] seeing all their hard work pay off.


The Wide World of Supplements

The Wide World of Supplements

In Morgantown, W. Va., all-star gym Champion Training Academy sells USANA nutritional supplements and weight loss products as part of its adult weight loss/group fitness program. Over in Katy, Texas, Xcel Athletics All-Stars hosted a Valentine’s Day shopping event earlier this year at which one of the vendors was Advocare (a company that markets energy, weight loss, nutrition and sports performance products). Some gyms are also selling Advocare on-site, such as Green Bay-based Tri County Gymnastics & Cheer, and many cheer professionals moonlight as Advocare reps in addition to their work at the gym, including Tori and Jason Cuevas (Legacy All-Star Cheer & Dance), Sherry Gomez (Ultimate Cheer & Dance) and James Whitaker (Cheer Time Revolution).

According to Whitaker, it’s not surprising that many in the cheer industry are embracing supplements. “Both coaches and athletes put a lot of stress on their bodies—heavy lifting, multiple repetitions, fatigue, muscle breakdown, dehydration,” says Whitaker. “And not only that, but our time is very limited. When you supplement, it allows you to overcome those obstacles.”

Whitaker isn’t alone in his penchant for supplements—in 2012, the nutritional supplement category hit $32 billion in revenue, and by 2021 it will be almost double that at $60 billion (according to the Nutrition Business Journal). While these numbers signal blockbuster business for the supplement industry, the surge also means consumers will need to work harder in order to sift through the barrage of advertising, studies and claims that are sure to follow.

So how can cheer professionals begin the tedious process of navigating the supplements market? Understanding supplements and what they do will assist in deciphering which ones make sensible, safe choices for you—and your athletes.

What are supplements? The definition of a supplement “is simple,” explains Dr. Jenny Abercrombie, an El Segundo, CA-based naturopathic doctor. She describes supplements as an “adjunct to nutrition,” meaning that supplements are not meant to replace the foods we eat, but rather “to fill in the gaps.”

Whitaker believes supplements also help him set a good health example. “I use Brad Habermel and Cheer Athletics as an analogy,” he shares. “He is in great shape, [so] his teams are in great shape. He coaches with high energy, [so] his teams perform with tons of energy. They are a direct reflection of him. His healthy lifestyle helps him not only coach at a high level but gives him credibility when he demands that same healthy lifestyle from his athletes.”

How powerful are they? Supplements support and even enhance body function, including offering remedies when certain issues arise (such as fatigue caused by stress, lack of sleep or over-training). “They help prevent burnout and improve recovery and performance,” says Dr. Abercrombie. The magic happens at the cellular level by improving the muscle’s utilization of sugar, “which is where we get energy from.”

But Dr. Abercrombie cautions that too often people—especially active adults and athletes—rely solely on supplements for nutrition. “It’s much easier to take a supplement,” she says, “and much harder to identify and eliminate poor food choices that cause poor performance, anxiety, mood swings and depression.”

Chris White, the Georgia-based owner of Spirit Supplements Nutrition, LLC, says he witnesses the effects of poor food choices on a daily basis. “All too often, I see kids show up for competition with empty fast food wrappers and an energy drink, and they wonder why they don’t feel good or perform well,” he says. Though White commiserates with families and the busy lives they lead, he believes there are alternatives to mainstream unhealthful grab-n-go foods—supplements that can be both fast and nutritious. “A protein shake is quick and easy, too,” he adds.

Which ones are worth it? Stephanie Beveridge, FDN, agrees. “I always recommend a whole, nutrient-dense lifestyle of food for everyone (including athletes), but supplements can assist in wellness,” says Beveridge, who is the executive director of programs for Copperas Cove, TX-based GymKix. Two supplements Beveridge often recommends for overall health: vitamins A and D. According to Beveridge, Vitamin A is essential because it supports healing, while Vitamin D reduces internal inflammation—both effects that can serve to cut an athlete’s downtime between a hard practice and a competition.

What to watch out for? Beveridge is quick to point out that quality varies between brands; she also makes the broad claim that almost all mainstream and heavily advertised supplements likely contain toxins. “Most have artificial food colorings and sweeteners,” explains Beveridge. “[These] have been linked to negatively impact the brain and the central nervous system.” Beveridge recommends reading labels and avoiding brands that list aspartame, sucralose or saccharin as ingredients. Instead, she advocates buying supplements that use natural sweeteners like stevia, honey and maple syrup.

Are there alternatives to relying on supplements that will get the same results? The answer is “yes,” says White. Before turning to taking supplements, White recommends getting back to nutrition basics with what he calls “clean eating.” He believes athletes and active adults can meet their dietary needs by consuming adequate amounts of hormone-free meat proteins, fruits and vegetables, as well as fats from foods like avocados.

“If kids still aren’t performing well, I give parents a checklist,” says White. The checklist includes questions regarding a child’s overall well-being, such as hydration, stress level, sleep patterns, social challenges and medications. The answers help White educate parents and develop a strategy to remedy issues with performance through a combination of good nutrition and supplementation.

-Cathleen Calkins

Visit our blog for a rundown of suggested supplements for you and your athletes!


Timeline: Industry Innovations and Trends

Timeline: Industry Innovations and Trends

Did you ace our industry quiz? Enhance your knowledge even more with our comprehensive timeline of industry trends and innovations—from rebate plans to stay-to-play to custom uniforms—and find out how they came to fruition. (Please note: this is a living document! We are continually updating and adding more information. If you would like to add updates to our timeline, please email us at info@thecheerprofessional.com).


Rebate Plans

2005 — Spirit Celebration creates its own rebate plan (attend 2 events = 15% back; 5 events = 20% back; 6 events = 20% back + a cruise)

2006 — Varsity Family Plan is introduced

2008 — The JAM Brands introduces the JAM Rewards

2010 — Cheer Ltd. and Mardi Gras Spirit Events join the Varsity Family Plan

2011 — IEP launches its I-Deal rebate program with companies like US Spirit on board

2011 — Epic Brands introduces Epic Rewards

2012 — Twisted Spirit introduces “Totally Twisted” gym profit program including elements of business advising, branding help and choreography service

2013 — Xtreme Spirit introduces Partner Brand Rebates (with partners such as Elite International Championship Series, Allstar Apparel, GlitzGirl Cosmetics, and Platinum Bows)

2014 — 15 companies including ACDA, Epic Brands and WSA join forces to introduce the “Season Pass”


Custom Uniforms

1999 — Teamleader launches its line of custom uniforms made in the U.S.A.

2008 — GK Elite makes its debut

2011 — Xtreme Spirit launches Allstar Apparel

2012 — Spirit Innovations merges with Varsity

2013 — Rebel Athletic signs on as Title Sponsor for Spirit Celebration’s 2013-2014 season

2014 — GK Elite launches a new sublimation line, “ink’d by GK”


Free Admission

2003 — All JAMFest events (except JAMFest Cheer Super Nationals) adopt a free admission policy

2011 — Spirit Celebration comes on as partner for “Cheer for Charity,” a free competition in Waco, TX benefiting cancer research co-hosted by Heart of Texas all-star gym

2011 — All Great Lakes Cheer Championship events (except Showdown Nationals) adopt a free admission policy

2011 — Epic Brands’ Reach the Beach Daytona event starts offering free admission to attendees

2012 — Reach the Beach Daytona adopts a free admission policy


Multi-Brand End of Season Events

1996 — Xtreme Spirit debuts its Elite International Championship

2004 — USASF hosts the first Cheerleading Worlds competition in Orlando, FL

2006 — NLCC companies (American Cheer Power, AmeriCheer, Eastern Cheerleaders Association, Cheer America, Spirit Unlimited and American Cheer and Dance Academy) hold the first Final Destination event in Baltimore

2008 — JAM Brands and NLCC (Epic Brands and Spirit Brands) collaborate to rebrand and reimagine Final Destination as The U.S. Finals

2009 — UCA/UDA hold the first International All Levels Championship

2010 — Xtreme Spirit holds the first Elite International Championship series, to which teams earn bids throughout the season at partner brand events

2013 — US Spirit debuts THE ONE Cheer & Dance Finals

2013 — GSSA signs onto the U.S. Finals team to produce its West Coast event

2013 — Varsity debuts The Summit, an all-levels national championship, to replace the International All Levels Virtual Championship

2014 — Powered by Twisted Cheer & Dance, the “aerial sporting event” All Star Games has its inaugural event in Las Vegas with multi-brand partnerships with Nfinity, GK Elite, COP Brands (Mexico), New Zealand Cheer Union and the All Star Games Federation.

2014 — Nfinity and Aloha Spirit Productions launch The Champions League with accompanying feature film debut



2005 — The Aloha International Spirit Championships in Honolulu begin requiring stay-to-play

2011 — Epic Brands events including Reach the Beach (Daytona, Ocean City All-Star and Ocean City Rec/School) and Battle of the Boardwalk join the stay-to-play fold

2011 — American Cheer Power adopts stay-to-play policies

2012 — Spirit Celebration switches from stay-to-play to “inform to perform” (providing flexibility to stay anywhere as long as accommodation information is provided)

2012 — NCA/NDA All-Star National Championships move to stay-to-play

2014 — JAMFest Cheer Super Nationals and Coastal Battle at the Capitol adopt stay-to-play policies

2014 — Cheersport institutes a stay-to-play policy starting with its 2014 National Championship


Red Carpet Events

2007 — The JAM Brands debuts LIVE! The Authentic Red Carpet Experience

2010 — Varsity introduces Encore Championships

2012 — Spirit Celebration launches AMAZING Championships, where teams compete to benefit a charity of their choice and get to promote their cause on the red carpet

2013 — Xtreme Spirit debuts Premier Series events

2014 — Spirit Celebration debuts the Crown Jubilee, a “royalty-themed” end-of-year event with a masquerade ball/awards ceremony the night before the competition and a red carpet at the event

Note: All U.S. Spirit Nationals events are now red carpet events (no date available)


By-Invitation Events

2012 — The JAM Brands debuts The Majors

2013 — GK Elite signs on as official outfitter of the All-Star Games

2013 — Epic Brands debuts The Reveal, The Debut and Future 5

2014 — GSSA/Aloha Productions partners with Nfinity as the event producer for The Champions League


Consolidation and Acquisitions

2003 — Spirit Celebration becomes official partner and host of CGA Small Gym Nationals; State Fair of Texas Championship; State Fair of Louisiana Championship; Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Fall Championship/Nationals events

2007 — The JAM Brands acquires America’s Best and Coastal

2008 — The JAM Brands acquires Great Lakes Cheer Championships and COA

2008 — America’s Best Championships and Spirit Innovations join the JAM Brands

2011 — ACDA/Spirit Unlimited become The Epic Brands

2012 — Spirit Innovations announces that it will now operate under Varsity Spirit Fashion

2013 — Xtreme Spirit acquires Wisconsin Spirit


New on the Scene

2010 — Twisted Spirit expands its focus beyond choreography to start offering events, starting with the Twister Treat event in New Zealand and Makin’ Noise for Toyz in Bloomington, followed by the launch of custom “3D events” (with live performances by Kickfull band) in 2012, and Unplugged (smaller-scale events) in 2013


Starting a Gym 101: Keeping Tabs

Starting a Gym 101: Keeping Tabs

Business experts and Gym Kix owners Carrie Harris and Stephanie Beveridge

Number 10 on our list is to set up a recordkeeping/accounting/in-house office system for your services. Many new business owners tend to put this on the back burner or contract it out to “someone who likes math,” and it can soon become cancerous. Improper record keeping or accounting can become a business owner’s worst nightmare, so attention to detail is extremely important.

Financial Management is the process of managing the financial resources, including accounting and financial reporting, budgeting, collecting accounts receivable, risk management and insurance for a business. The financial management system for a small business includes both how you are financing it as well as how you manage the money in the business.

In setting up a financial management system your first decision is whether you will manage your financial records yourself or whether you will have someone else do it for you.

Bookkeeping refers to the daily operation of an accounting system (recording routine transactions within the appropriate accounts). An accounting system defines the process of identifying, measuring, recording and communicating financial information about the business. A bookkeeper compiles the information that goes into the system, and the accountant takes the data and analyzes it in ways that give you useful information about your business. They will be able to advise you on the systems needed for your particular business and prepare accurate reports certified by their credentials.While software packages are readily available to meet almost any accounting need, having an accountant at least review your records can lend credibility to your business, especially when dealing with lending institutions and government agencies.

The most crucial part of your small business will be setting up an accounting system, collecting bills and paying employees, suppliers and taxes correctly. Unless you are well versed in accounting and bookkeeping, this is likely to be your nemesis if not handled appropriately.

The basis for every accounting system is a good bookkeeping system. What is the difference between that and an accounting system? Think of accounting as the big picture and bookkeeping system as the nuts and bolts of your business. The bookkeeping system provides the numbers for the accounting system. Both accounting and bookkeeping can be contracted out to external firms if you are not comfortable with managing them yourself.

Even if you outsource the accounting functions, however, you will need some type of recordkeeping systems to manage the day-to-day operations of your business – in addition to a financial plan and a budget to make certain you have thought through where you are headed in your business finances. And, your accounting system should be producing Financial Statements. Learning to read them is an important skill to acquire.

There are also several financial software options to choose from such as Peach Tree, Quicken and QuickBooks. We recommend trying the different types of software out and see what works best for you. Some software can work directly with your online registration software and your bank, so it’s best to investigate those options to save time in the future.

Clearly, financial management encompasses a number of crucial areas of your business. Take time to set them up right. It will make a significant difference in your stress levels and in the bottom line for your business.

Read more: http://www.smallbusinessnotes.com/business-finances/financial-management/#ixzz2o3hcFGT5

-Stephanie Beveridge and Carrie Harris

Past posts:

Starting a Gym 101: Setting Up Your Space

Starting a Gym 101: Pricing Your Services

Starting a Gym 101: Licenses, Permits & Insurance

Starting a Gym 101: All Things Legal

Starting a Gym 101: Making the Big Decisions

Starting a Gym 101: Writing a Business Plan

Starting a Gym 101: Legal Forms of Business Ownership

Starting a Gym 101 

Go, Go Gadget! Review: Cheer Balance Pro Pedestal

Go, Go Gadget! Review: Cheer Balance Pro Pedestal

For our new “Go, Go Gadget!” review feature, we asked the team at Georgia Tech to road test the Cheer Balance Pro Pedestal.

What It Is: The Cheer Balance Pro Pedestal is geared at boosting strength and helping to build athletes’ balance for stunting and other cheer skills. Founder David Ciolkosz was inspired by two circus veterans (one a world champion and the other a Guinness World Record holder for balance), who introduced the concept to him using handstand poles. The natural vibration of the pedestal’s pole creates shockwaves of energy, resulting in improved balance strength.

Our Testers: The cheer squad at Georgia Tech, under the direction of coach King Harrison. Harrison owns four Cheer Balance pedestals, which he rotates among his flyers and uses during summer training. Each flyer follows the same circuit: liberty, arabesque, stretch, scale, bow & arrow, scorpion. “When you pull all of those, you really have to work your hip flexors, abs, core, ankle and leg—really focusing on keeping yourself centered over the pole,” Harrison explains.

What they loved: “I teach stunting a lot like people teach tumbling; I’m very focused on body alignment and positioning,” says Harrison. For those reasons, he’s a big fan of the way the Cheer Balance pedestal shows athletes how to position themselves in the air and hold their weight properly. He also appreciates the “instant feedback” the product provides: “If your weight isn’t centered, you’ll fall right off,” he explains. 

What they thought could be improved: “It doesn’t teach you how to do a full-up or how to be sharp [in a stunt], but that’s not the point,” says Harrison, who also was a stunt coach at Stingrays for six years.

The verdict: “[The Cheer Balance pedestal] is fun to stand on and do different body positions. It’s not a cure-all, like ‘Bam! I’m a better flyer instantly!’ but if used properly, it can really help flyers find their balance and center,” says Harrison, adding that he recommends it most to newer flyers or those who need to work on flexibility.

How to get it: www.cheerbalance.com


FAQ: Champions League

FAQ: Champions League

Can’t stop hearing about the Champions League? CheerProfessional has your need-to-know guide to one of this year’s biggest debut events—we caught up with Nfinity’s marketing director Hillary Dwyer to find out what cheer professionals and athletes can expect from the new Champions League event (and movie!). Find out what she had to say in our Q&A:

CP: Explain the concept of the Champions League and what makes it unique from other events.

Dwyer: The Champions League is a select group of up to 30 teams that represent a tradition of past, present and future excellence in Level 5 Cheerleading and come together to host a competition of epic proportions. Not only will the teams compete across all divisions, but they will also compete across several formats (including All-Girl versus Co-Ed), with one overall Grand Champion. There will also be opportunities for teams not originally included to earn their way into the League. The bottom teams each year will be subject to attrition to allow for new teams to rise up and take their place. In addition to The Champions League competition, teams of all levels and divisions will participate in the event in a regular two-day format. The registration lottery will be open to ALL programs and teams beginning September 10 and conclude, at the latest, September 15. First registered, first to attend and space is limited.

CP: How did Nfinity and GSSA/Aloha Spirit first forge a connection and decide to spearhead this event?

Dwyer: Nfinity approached the gym owners first. After speaking with the gym owners and multiple producers to find someone that everyone felt would be a good partner, the league voted to select Tammy Van Vleet with Golden State Spirit Association and Aloha Spirit Productions as the event producer for the 2014 Champions League. GSSA/Aloha has a wonderful reputation in the industry and has turned out to be the perfect fit for this exciting event.

CP: What is the format of the event, and how did you select Atlanta as this year’s venue?

Dwyer: Teams will compete for the following honors: Champion of the All-Girl teams, Champion of the Co-Ed teams and Grand Champion of the League. In addition, the average score of all the Co-Ed teams will be tallied to compare with the average score of the All-Girl teams. The “team” with the highest average will be crowned each season. The two-day event will also feature teams in all divisions and at all levels and will be based on a 50/50 total for division championships.

Atlanta is Nfinity’s hometown, so it felt right to kick-off this epic experience in our backyard. The plan is to choose a new city each year to host the Champions League.

CP: How are the 30 Level 5 teams selected? How does the “League” come together?

Dwyer: 2014 League members were selected based on a combination of the following factors: a) a culmination of the last decade of competitive success at events, and b) historical ability to attract a “fan base” from outside the respective team’s organization.

CP: What will the prize(s) be?

Dwyer: In lieu of traditional prize(s), the Champions League athletes decided to compete for charities. The winning team(s) will donate their prize money to the charity of their choice.

CP: Talk about the open championship component and any other key parts of the event.

Dwyer: An All-Girl Level 5 and a Co-Ed Level 5 team will advance to the Saturday night “show” from the competition on Saturday morning. The highest score from these divisions will compete in The Champions League on Saturday night as the Wild Card teams.

CP: How did the idea crystallize to bring the event to the big screen? What can viewers expect?

Dwyer: In the midst of formalizing a plan for an exciting and unique cheerleading competition, Tate Chalk saw something else. He approached some of the sports most decorated cheerleading coaches about the competition and saw fascinating stories unfold. With an eye for innovation and the unexpected, Tate then approached Fathom Events with a unique movie concept. He wanted to tell competitive cheerleading’s story to the world and showcase the athleticism & dedication that today’s cheerleaders possess.

CP: How does the Champions League speak to current industry trends and where events are headed?

Dwyer: We like to think of this event as setting a trend and raising the bar in the industry by giving the power to the people who have created these amazing programs. It has changed the dynamic of cheerleading and brought owners and coaches from different programs together as a united front to help spearhead growth and ensure a positive and lengthy future for our industry.

CP: Where can our readers buy movie tickets?
Dwyer: Tickets can be purchased at http://www.fathomevents.com/event/nfinity-cheerleading

Behind the Merger: East Celebrity Elite

Behind the Merger: East Celebrity Elite

As the divide between small and large gyms grows wider, it’s not uncommon for gyms to merge in an attempt to pump up profits and competitive power. On the surface, the reasons to merge seem clear—building a larger membership base or having the means to form a stronger coaching staff. But dig deeper and you’ll find that a number of other motivating factors are often at play, from strengthening the local cheer community to wanting to benefit the athletes. For our “Behind the Merger” series, we caught up with three gym owners who opted to merge and discovered the real deal behind making the challenging yet rewarding move to become one. See the first in our series below!


Merger #1: East Elite + Celebrity Cheer = East Celebrity Elite

Location: Tewksbury, MA

Reason for merging: Remaining profitable in a challenging economy

Combined number of athletes: 400+

Cheryl Pasinato, former owner of East Elite, discusses her gym’s 2009 merger with Celebrity Cheer and the payback of moving forward.

CP: Why did you decide to merge?
Pasinato: It was a mutual merger [between East Elite and Celebrity Cheer]. I knew them for a while; we were two of the biggest gyms numbers-wise in the area. But when the economy took a downturn, we both started to lose kids.

CP: What was the motivator, aside from the economy, to merge with Celebrity Cheer?
Pasinato: To stay competitive nationally, we felt we needed to do something. It was to position our gym as a bigger, non-local program competing at the national level. We also had a philosophy to offer our kids the best coaches and the best staff. With diminishing numbers, we didn’t think we could do this on our own; we felt we had to merge.

CP: Describe the landscape before merging.
Pasinato: We were 8-10 miles away from each other and, if a kid didn’t make it at one of our gyms, they would go to the other one. People [parents and kids] started to create competition between us. We were the worst rivals ever. Our staff didn’t get along; we were really competitive with each other. Essentially we merged with people we didn’t even speak with—but we did it for the business and the kids.

CP: The merger must have been challenging. How did you make it work?
Pasinato: We both had strong staffs with different philosophies and strengths. But we felt we could learn from each other. We also felt we could use each other’s strengths to come up with the ideal program. For instance, tumbling coaches are hard to come by, so combining our coaching staff would benefit our kids. It was a better talent pool.

CP: What else made the merger challenging?
Pasinato: Selling it to the parents. For the most part, everyone was excited after we made the announcement, but we had been rivals for all these years who wanted to beat each other. After a couple months, there were indeed issues, but mostly with the parents (loyalty-type issues on little things).

CP: How so?
Pasinato: It was pride-based—things that kept the parents separate like colors and competition. We had pride in our [respective] identities and names and our colors, but this went away after the first year because the kids had a really good year.

CP: What was the key to making it work?
Pasinato: Compromise. There was a facility issue: [Celebrity Cheer’s] was cheaper and more centrally located. We felt bad for the kids leaving their gym behind, but we had to compromise. We did things to help the kids feel comfortable, such as using their [East Elite] colors. We talked to the older kids and told them we needed their support to make this work and for them to be examples to the younger kids. We merged right after tryouts and kept all the teams separate except the minis and Junior 5 teams. After the second year, we merged everyone.

CP: Any other examples of how you compromised?
Pasinato: We were more conservative about attendance; they weren’t. Together we adopted a [joint] policy that was less conservative but one that motivated everyone to come to practice.

CP: What was most surprising to you after the merger?
Pasinato: What surprised me most was how the four of us [the original gym owners] got along. We all had these ideas about each other; that we were so different. But as we came together, we realized we were more similar [in our business and coaching attitudes]. We all had the same goals too: providing a better experience, fostering growth and more profit, making [cheer] a career.

CP: How has the merger made you more competitive?
Pasinato: We have a lot of different levels now—division and age groups at every single level. We are giving kids the opportunity to progress using their skills and offering them more opportunities.

CP: What is your advice for other gyms considering a merger?
Pasinato: I think you have to consider the reasons why. If it’s financial, that’s good; if it’s for a better name, that’s not a good reason. The name doesn’t necessarily bring the kids. A good reason is to be competitive and have more resources, such as revenue and cash flow.

Spotlight: Randy Dickey

Spotlight: Randy Dickey

Professionalism, the importance of checks and balances and family are three of the moral tenets that ACX Cheer owner Randy Dickey lives by. Actually, if it were up to him to reorder those terms, family would come first, specifically Dickey’s wife Amie (whom he met in college at an Atlanta honky-tonk) and his 9-year-old daughter Macie.

“I honestly think that, in cheerleading, the way you treat your family will show through in your character in the industry,” he says. “[When] people treat their family bad, disrespect their marriages or do things like that, [that behavior] says a lot about who they are in the industry. I believe that your family comes first.”

A proponent of honesty and accountability in cheer, Dickey started the All-Star Gym Owners Association in 2008 as a free resource group for gym owners to share knowledge and obtain group discounts through volume buying. However, it soon turned into a respected outlet to vent concerns about the industry and, eventually, somewhat of a renegade watchdog group.

Specifically, in 2012, after new rules were handed down two weeks before Worlds—including one limiting the tumbling skills allowed (thereby reducing a revenue stream for gyms)—owners took to the ASGA Facebook page in droves. The complaints culminated in a giant conference call beyond anything Dickey could have imagined: “We anticipated having 50 people on the phone call, and we had over 1,000 show up,” he says. “Everyone was listening, and people were taking turns talking. It was refreshing to see that much interest and passion in the sport and our rules.”

As the number of ASGA members grew, the grassroots group began to sway the industry’s governing bodies and apparel companies. “If something is not right for the industry, truly just not right or not fair, they’re going to listen to 1,500 people a lot more than they would just one gym…so it’s kind of like checks and balances,” Dickey says.

Despite the organization’s efforts to influence rules, vendors and event producers, Dickey still considers the knowledge shared among gym owners the group’s biggest achievement. At retreats and on the ASGA Facebook page, they discuss everything from how to deal with irate parents to how help athletes push past tumbling plateaus to how to organize fundraisers.

The collective goal? Longevity. “[Fellow ASGA leader] Courtney [Smith-Pope] and I want to make sure the industry is still around when our kids take over the gym,” Dickey says. “There’s an astounding rate of gyms going out of business, and we like to think we’re reducing that.”

Dickey’s own road to cheerleading was an unconventional one—he was on both the football and the wrestling teams at his high school until he injured his arm during junior year right before state championships. (He still competed, with his arm taped to his body.) The next year, everything changed for Dickey. He intended to play football as planned, but an athletic director dissuaded him because he wasn’t getting a scholarship in the sport. “Well, what am I supposed to do to stay in shape?” Dickey remembers asking him. As far as Dickey was concerned, cross-country was definitely out. “[I considered] running a punishment,” Dickey says. “I just figured that something similar to wrestling would be gymnastics.”

After he saw a VCR tape of a UCA summer camp, where the guys were stunting with women, Dickey was sold on cheerleading. He joined the squad his senior year of high school and scored both a wrestling and cheer scholarship to Georgia State. Post-college, he worked at Pro Cheer and later opened locations for industry veteran Tate Chalk.

Now Dickey not only owns ACX Cheer Gyms with two locations, but also produces his own cheer music—taking inspiration from his saxophonist father (who played with acts such as Aretha Franklin and The Drifters) and sometimes using his daughter’s voice on tracks. Next up: he’s planning to franchise ACX, a brand he’s worked hard to perfect.

“I don’t want to own any more facilities, per se,” he says. “However, if people want to take the business model that I have, use our name and have weekly meetings via Skype, [I’m willing to] just have my own private kind of gang, so to speak, of ACX gyms. They would own them and do their thing and just pay a monthly fee to run it like we do, and they can reap the benefits. I think that [approach] is a good, safe place to go for me, one that will help secure my future and basically help me enable gyms to stay successful that may have struggled.”

That hard-won reputation in the industry and desire to help other gyms grow is especially important to Dickey for personal reasons. “The reason I’m so passionate about cheerleading is because of everything that it’s given my family,” he says. “I’ve really never had any other job, so…without cheerleading, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, with the family that I have or the home [that we own]. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving back—because of what it’s done for me.”

-Jamie Beckman

Stretch Into Success: Yoga in the Gym

Stretch Into Success: Yoga in the Gym

When Megan Eacret’s business partner left Cheer San Diego to start her own program—taking some of their clients with her—Eacret was faced with a dilemma: shortage of flyers. Rather than feeling discouraged, Eacret embraced it as a welcome challenge. “Some of our athletes who had only flown a prep or two as needed in pyramids were given an awesome opportunity to develop their skills and become full-time flyers,” shares Eacret.

But there was a catch. “Two of our potential flyers were very strong and muscular athletes, but with little flexibility—a huge challenge for cheerleaders in general, but especially for a flyer,” she recounts. To pump up the athletes’ pliability, Eacret decided to offer them flexibility classes comprised primarily of vinyasa yoga.

“Our Flexibility for Flyers class was an incredible tool for these athletes to gain the flexibility they needed to be in the air and help their teams be successful,” she says. “They are now better able to stick to their stunts because of the increased flexibility and are also more confident as flyers because they can pull their body lines in the air.”

Eacret gained two new flyers—all thanks to yoga.

Yoga for Cheerleaders

The health benefits of yoga for all people are no secret, but for athletes, yoga can be even more important. According to Sage Rountree, author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, yoga improves strength and flexibility in tandem, while also enhancing focus. “The balance is critical for cheerleaders, who need an abundance of both strength and flexibility, [as well as] razor-sharp concentration and self-control skills,” says Rountree.

Eacret’s cheerleaders are living proof: those who’ve participated in the gym’s yoga program report improvement in body awareness and control. “The relaxation and breathing exercises have benefited our cheerleaders by helping them learn new ways to cope with stress and control emotions,” she adds.

Like Cheer San Diego, more and more gyms are discovering the joys and benefits of this ancient Indian art of exercise. However, before putting a yoga program in place, it’s important to note a few key considerations:

Offer cheer-specific yoga: Not just any yoga instructor will do for teaching cheerleaders. “Hire an experienced teacher who will focus more on sport-specific exercises, integration (keeping from the far edges of flexibility work; less is more in this population), recovery practices and mindfulness,” advises Rountree. She also recommends keeping the intensity of the yoga practice in inverse proportion to that of other training. “Bodies need stress to adapt, but too much yoga practice combined with rigorous training can be overkill and lead to injury,” she adds.

Find the right coach: Much like hiring a cheer coach, it’s vital to hire a trained instructor with the proper certifications and knowledge, so make sure any instructors you hire have at least a Registered Yoga Teacher certification. Eacret found her instructors through Craigslist and word of mouth. “It’s amazing how many connections we find from just asking our families at the gym, and we always do background checks on our fitness instructors since we work with kids,” she says.

Know the going rates: Offering competitive pay can help attract a quality yoga instructor. Pay should be determined based on the person’s level of experience, along with the duration and frequency of classes. Geographic regions may also differ due to cost of living—for instance, Wendy Riley of Altus, OK-based Whitaker’s Extreme Gymnastics, paid her two instructors $10/hour for the yoga sessions last season, while at Cheer San Diego, instructors get around $30/hour.

Go for coaches who can do double-duty: When hiring a new dance or tumbling coach, consider giving preference to those who are also yoga-certified. Fort Mill, SC-based Charlotte All Stars offers yoga classes twice a week to cheerleaders and moms by a dance instructor who is also yoga-certified. “We actually hired a dance instructor, and we were contemplating yoga classes for increasing core strength and flexibility. Since she was yoga-certified, we got her to teach yoga as well,” says gym director Jamey Harlow.

Owners can go that route, too: Riley of Whitaker’s Extreme Gymnastics also procured a National Exercise Trainers Association certification recently and now teaches yoga at her gym.

Set up a swap: If you don’t have enough space for a yoga program, consider an exchange program. Take Griffin-GA based Legion of All Stars, which has partnered with Club Fitness of Griffin. They offer discounts to the gym members for signing up with them for cheer/ tumbling classes, and vice versa.

What’s in it for me?

Many gym owners are in a constant state of high stress and could definitely use some yoga Zen. Tarisa Parrish, owner of The YogaSoul Center in Eagan, MN, says, “Running a gym is a demanding career. Keeping up at the necessary pace without losing your sanity requires self-care and calm. You need a grounded approach to life and business,” she says. “Many gym owners find that when they have a daily yoga practice, they make fewer mistakes and seem to get more done in less time.”

Eacret couldn’t agree more. “As far as a gym owner’s personal well-being is considered, it’s awesome to have yoga offered in-house so that if I end up having an hour free unexpectedly, I can head up stairs and get some ‘Om’ time,” she says.

-Dinsa Sachan



Share-ables and Wearables: Fun Ways to Reward Athletes

Share-ables and Wearables: Fun Ways to Reward Athletes

It’s a memorable moment at the Oregon Dream Teams gym, as an athlete throws a round-off/back handspring/tuck three times in a row. Mastering this new skill qualifies her for a special honor—she gets to ring the gym’s dinner bell. Practice halts as everyone in the gym gathers round to watch the athlete demonstrate the skill and give her a round of applause. The bell is just one of numerous ways gym owner and coach Tori Cotton gives her athletes public recognition, whether it’s in front of cheering teammates or with a shout-out on the scrolling web banner of OregonDreamTeams.com.

Akin to an angel getting its wings, the sound of the bell signifies athletes getting their due for putting in all the hard work—and the Pavlovian response often equals them working even harder. Find out how to elicit strong performances from your athletes with these creative reward ideas.

Give Share-able, Social Rewards

Cheryl Davies, owner of Florida Triple Threat All Stars, awards “Spirit Fingers” to athletes who’ve learned a new skill and can perform it consistently. The gym’s newsletter includes a Spirit Fingers column that lists the name of everyone who learned a new skill (and what skill it was). Explains Davies, “I even list the people that come to our tumbling classes who aren’t on a team. They get put in the newsletter and they get so excited. ‘I’m in Spirit Fingers!’”

At Cheer Force One in Mobile, Alabama, athletes are honored through their “Got Skills” program. If an athlete throws a skill three times consecutively without a spot, they get to put their name in the gym’s “Got Skills” box; those names are then compiled into a list that’s spotlighted via social media. “Every Monday, we post a list on our Facebook page of all the kids and what skill they got. They can share it with their friends, and it gives an extra little push for the gym,” says gym owner and director Sean Sutton.

Sarah Macrow of Cheer Extreme Allstars also highlights athletes on social media when they learn something new. When shooting video of an athlete trying a skill for the first time, she recommends, “Instead of stopping it just after they finish their tumbling pass or their first back handspring, record their reaction. Ask ‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘How was that?’ and get that moment of celebration.”

Give Wearable Rewards

At Cheer Extreme, Macrow acknowledges the achievements of kids who are too young for social media by inviting them to pick the theme for their next practice. If an athlete asks everyone to come in Halloween costumes or wear knee socks and pigtails, teammates show their support by dressing as requested.

Earlier this year, Macrow created a simple but memorable award for her athletes by bringing a ball of red yarn to the gym.  She cut it into pieces that athletes could tie onto their wrist, ankle or shoe. When an athlete got the skill of the week (which might be something like “landing with your feet together in a jump”), they earned a piece of yarn.  Each week, she handed out segments of a different color yarn. “[Even though the reward was given in] June, some people still have them tied onto their shoes or backpack,” she marvels.

Cheer Force One uses silicone wristbands to reward athletes for more abstract achievements, like paying close attention or overcoming a fear. “It’s something that doesn’t have to go to the best kid in the class, or the most talented kid. It’s an opportunity for anybody, regardless of skill set,” says Sutton. “That way, even if Sally Sue will be working on this back handspring for the next three years, she can still earn a band in class, and that’s a little bit of praise and recognition.”

What Doesn’t Work?

An old program at Oregon Dream Teams rewarded athletes with fake dollars that they could save up to spend at the pro shop. Cotton says, “Nobody ever got into it, and I think it was because it was such a delayed gratification. It’s like, ‘Oh, I have to save up 20 of these bucks to get anything,’ and for some kids, that could be three years of tumbling.” If you’re proud of your athletes’ accomplishments, find a way to let them feel appreciated right away—and the rewards are likely to come back to you as well.

-Lisa Beebe

Spotlight: Kyle Wright of ACX

Spotlight: Kyle Wright of ACX

Randy Dickey of Columbia, SC-based ACX Cheer thought so highly of Kyle Wright that after his stint cheering for ACX, Dickey asked Wright to run his gym in Charleston. “Athlete, coach, gym manager, Kyle does it all,” says Dickey of Wright’s work today.

Like many other cheer professionals, Wright was initially a gymnast. When asked to cheer in high school, he was hesitant at first but finally gave in because, “I figured there would be girls there.” Once Wright began training at ACX, he got hooked. He had always been interested in coaching even while competing and started bugging Dickey to let him give it a try. To gain experience, Wright started teaching tumbling classes at summer camps and eventually landed a coaching position at the gym, going full-time after graduating from college.

Wright says he learned much of his coaching techniques from watching his own teachers—having insight into team dynamics is what he sees as one of his greatest strengths. Having been in his athletes’ shoes, Wright knows that resolving team issues is a large part of a coach’s job description. As such, he relies heavily on team-building exercises and uses them to help make the program more successful. ACX Charleston is a relatively new gym, and Wright’s goal is to have their first team ready for Worlds in 2015. However, day-to-day goals are just as important: “At the end of the day, I want my customers to feel good about themselves. And sometimes that may mean that even though they couldn’t get a certain skill that day that they go home with a goal for tomorrow and feel positive.”

Spotlight: Ambrel Brannon of Cheer Athletics

Spotlight: Ambrel Brannon of Cheer Athletics

This December, we’re running a series of spotlights on athletes-turned-cheer professionals. Meet Ambrel Mitchell of Cheer Athletics!

Most people don’t equate cheerleading with computer science, but global systems engineer and former all-star athlete Ambrel Mitchell Brannon has successfully been able to juggle all the above. Currently a coach at the famed Cheer Athletics gym in Dallas, Brannon completed a Masters degree in computer science at Southern Methodist University while coaching several teams and competing on an open coed team. Now retired, she works her day job as an engineer and spends her nights and weekends coaching at Cheer Athletics. (It’s a good thing that Brannon’s husband also coaches at the gym—otherwise, they might never see each other!)

“You choose what you spend your time on,” says Brannon. “To me, coaching isn’t a job, it’s a passion, so I love being at the gym.”

Brannon credits her time management skills to her background as a competitive cheerleader. She started gymnastics at the age of six and, after moving into cheerleading, has never looked back. Brannon also has the distinction of being the only athlete that has competed at all 10 Worlds championships (when she started, cross-competing was still allowed). Having medaled every year she competed, Brannon cites one of her best memories as winning two gold medals at Worlds when she was 18. “I had to skip prom but it was worth it,” she shares.

These are the kinds of experiences Brannon now shares with her CA athletes. Since she can relate to most of the feelings the kids have, she knows how to advise them—consoling them when they feel defeat and teaching them what true winning can be. “Defeat is always a learning moment and every athlete should experience it to really appreciate success. I tell my students to not focus on winning but to aim for hitting routines you can be proud of. To me, that’s true winning.”

-Vicky Choy

GTM Spotlight: Scott “Crasher” Braasch

GTM Spotlight: Scott “Crasher” Braasch

Scott “Crasher” Braasch’s nickname is hard to ignore—especially in cheerleading, a sport that tends to frown on crashes of any kind. Braasch is quick to mention that the nickname doesn’t reflect how he drives or stunts, but the Cheer Tyme titan still remembers the moment he got the moniker, when his wild-eyed, excitable high school football coach congratulated him after a game-winning play.

“He grabbed me by the face mask and said, ‘You’re the Crasher, Braascher! You crashed ’em!’” Braasch recalls.

The nickname started off as a joke, but “Crasher” as a concept has informed the way Braasch coaches—by viewing his back spots, bases and flyers as individual athletes with unique skills, just as a football team would its quarterbacks, running backs or offensive linemen. That also means requiring his athletes to train with drills, conditioning exercises and sport psychology.

“I’ve always had sort of a very authoritative way of coaching, and it’s been something that my athletes responded to,” he says. “I got into cheerleading in its very early stage, when cheerleading was trying to fight for its sport identity, [and] it really was a blessing for people to see somebody like myself who approached it truly like it was a sport.”

A series of career-ending injuries cut his football career at the California University of Pennsylvania short, but a former football buddy of his (the first male cheerleader at the school) and Braasch’s girlfriend (also a cheerleader) encouraged him to come to the games and, later, join in on stunting. The prospect of being surrounded by females—and tossing them in the air with the ease of flipping a coin—certainly helped convince him.

“I remember the first time I did a walk-up chair and thinking that was the coolest thing ever in the world: ‘I can’t believe I just picked this girl up and held her up,’” he says. “It was probably a year later that I was going full-up awesomes and rewinds.”

He was instantly hooked on the sport. He watched TV competitions and VHS tapes of top squads to study up on new stunts and gain inspiration for creating his own. Now, in the YouTube age where VCRs aren’t necessary, he owns three Cheer Tyme locations in Pennsylvania and Virginia. He even invented the Full Up Machine, a four-inch-tall rotating contraption that looks like the cushy top of a barstool, to help flyers learn and stick their full ups, half ups and double ups. Braasch says the machine enables mobile repetition, which is key to nailing stunts safely—but without beating up back spots and bases, a nearly unavoidable casualty of the learning process.

Braasch says the response to the Full Up Machine was very positive, but the machine is no longer being manufactured by Core Athletix, the company that helped develop it. He hopes to see it rise again in the future, he says, but until then he has several other top-secret inventions in his back pocket.

Safety in the industry has long been one of Braasch’s top priorities. He says he wants to emphasize simple cheerleading basics like “step, lock, tighten” and “perfection before progression” to increase safety in stunting, which has become more complicated—and, thus, potentially more dangerous—in recent years. Next up for Braasch is his newly won national at-large seat for NACCC, where his top goals are to 1) unite cheer coaches, 2) increase communication among gyms of all sizes and locations and 3) make it easier for parents of potential cheerleaders to see that the sport is a safe one.

“We have to be more and more safety-conscious. When we put pro athletes in jeopardy, then we put our sport in jeopardy,” he says. “Those things can’t happen if we want to have longevity as a legitimate sport and a respectable sport. Otherwise we’ll create things so crazy that they’ll look at us like the early days of the UFC, which was just unsafe, and was frowned upon. It’s already tough in the media as it is.”

In fact, with his new position, you could say that he’ll be the Crasher all over again.

“I don’t think that will ever go away,” he says. “For whatever reason, it has stuck, and I guess it was meant to stick. It’s who I am.”

Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Social media and its various tools—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest—provide a wonderful opportunity for gyms to interact online, but the very nature of the beast can sometimes put a gym’s reputation at risk. One derogatory remark on Twitter, and 1,000 re-tweets later, your popularity could hit rock bottom.

The best solution for keeping your social media reputation in check? Implementing a social media policy. Cheryl Pasinato, owner of Tewskbury, MA-based East Celebrity Elite, says that having such a policy in place has been a key factor in managing her gym’s social media activity. “It’s a golden opportunity to represent your gym in a positive manner,” says Pasinato. “Social media is a superb way to market your activities and generate revenue, but a policy helps regulate your online presence.”

Lizzy Stice, a hip-hop coach at Springfield, OR-based Emerald All Star Cheer, agrees. “It’s important for gyms to have a policy for their teachers, students and parents because people can easily throw stuff out there in social media and provide a false reality of the gym—good or bad!” cautions Stice.

If you’re considering introducing a social media policy for the 2013-2014 season, here are some tips to Tweet by:

Keep it short and sweet. A social media policy doesn’t have to be too long or elaborate. For example, the social media policy at East Celebrity Elite is all of 450 words long. It lays out the importance of social media tools in establishing the gym’s image, as well as some do’s and don’ts for all stakeholders—owners, coaches, athletes and parents. Even at a succinct 176 words, the social media policy of Dover-NH based Prime Time All Stars gets across the same message. Most gym owners will put the policy in their handbook, and some may even post it on their website. The key? Making sure all the members of your gym are aware of it through any channels necessary.

Make it meaningful to your gym. What you put in the policy will largely depend on your gym’s experiences and social media requirements. Both Prime Time All Stars and East Celebrity Elite emphasize the importance of putting out a positive image of the gym and not posting anything negative. For example, one pointer in East Celebrity Elite’s policy reads: There will be no negative comments on any forms of social media regarding any athletes, coaches, staff or other programs allowed. Please only post positive comments.

Other pointers include using appropriate language and not posting inappropriate pictures. Alison Reynolds, head coach at Tri-State Cheer All Stars (Havertown, PA), says they have an uncomplicated theory behind their policy. “It’s pretty simple—if you wouldn’t say it to or share it with a child, don’t post it,” says Reynolds. “Our gym owner always says, ‘It’s all about perception.'”

Spell it out using examples. While crafting your social media policy and laying out rules, it might be a good idea to explain every rule with an example. This makes the rules crystal clear to the readers. For instance, here’s the pointer about inappropriate pictures in the East Celebrity Elite policy: No inappropriate pictures posted. If you are engaging in something illegal or inappropriate, please do not share with everyone in social media. For e.g., pictures of underage athletes drinking at a party even though not in ECE clothing.

Personal page protocol: Sometimes members of a gym might be tempted to share a personal tidbit on the team page, but Stice cautions that “too many things can be taken the wrong way over social media, so unless it’s something really positive—like the birth of a baby—they shouldn’t really post it.” This concern can even translate to employees’ personal pages, according to Pasinato. “How a staff member represents themselves on their personal page ultimately has a bearing on the gym’s reputation, so we encourage them to post appropriate content on their personal profiles and pages, too,” she says.

Put emphasis on professionalism. Pasinato says she is very particular about keeping online interactions between members of her gym strictly professional. “We don’t encourage coaches to ‘friend’ athletes on their personal profiles,” she says. “Moreover, some of the coaches are really young and would not be comfortable sharing details about their personal life with the kids.” For ECE, all interaction between coaches and athletes is restricted to the team Facebook page; in fact, even parents aren’t allowed on the team page. “We have a separate page for parents, which we update with team news from time to time,” she adds.

Know the ramifications of pushing the limits. Despite publicizing your social media policy, sometimes there will be cases of misconduct. At Emerald All Star Cheer, the consequences can be serious. “Our policy is that if anything is seen as inappropriate or negative towards the gym, there will be a sit-down conversation with the gym owners and the defaulters,” says Stice. “There is always potential they can be let go.” At ECE, in case of an inappropriate comment on an athlete’s or parent’s part, they generally ask them to take down the post and have a conversation about the incident. “If it happens again, we ask them to leave,” adds Pasinato.

Stay vigilant. While social media is great for your gym’s publicity, you’ve got to be vigilant about what’s happening on your gym’s collective presence—which Stice says can be a pretty intensive endeavor. “I am constantly checking in on our team’s Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, team website and YouTube videos,” she confides. “This can be exhausting, but pays off in the long run because I make sure that everything we do is cohesive and is how we want to be represented.”

-Dinsa Sachan

Part 2: Free & Low-Cost Systems, Policies & Technology That Every Gym Should Have in Their Toolbox

Part 2: Free & Low-Cost Systems, Policies & Technology That Every Gym Should Have in Their Toolbox

As a gym owner or program director, you have a lot on your plate! So we’re giving you some of our favorite free and low-cost resources to help you be more efficient, organized and profitable in your all-star cheerleading career. (This is Part 2 of this article, so if you missed Part 1, be sure and grab all the cool resources there, too.) These articles are not an advertisement for any listed company or app. It is simply of listing of the tools our consulting clients love the most—and that we love the most—to help you grow your gym.

Evernote: Welcome to productivity and research heaven! Evernote makes it easy to remember things big and small from your everyday life using your computer, phone, tablet and the web—putting notes, web clips, and images available in one place. Collaborating online with coaches, vendors and staff is a snap with this tool, and it’s awesomely free. (Upgrades available).

Trello:  Trello is another free productivity and collaboration tool that organizes your projects and ideas into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what and where something is in a process. Like Evernote, it has mobile apps to keep you informed on the go. Look at both programs and decide based on your personal preference if you want to use both or just one of these very cool platforms to help you and your team run smoothly and stay accountable to all that needs to be done.

SignUpGenius: Here is an awesome one for team moms and your booster club: this site allows you to create forms and then invite others to sign up and pitch in! Need items for the goodie bags? Just make your form here and invite them to sign up for what they want to bring. It has many uses, and the basic version is free!

Google Calendar: Your gym calendar should absolutely be online accessible. Google calendar allows for multi-user sharing and editing with great control over who sees what. Color coding allows for easy organization and visual attention to specific items. Because it’s web-based, you always have it! Google calendar allows you to sync with your other existing calendars easily, such as iCal or Outlook. Yes, it’s free. If you don’t already have a Google account (Gmail, YouTube, G+, etc), just go to google.com and sign up. Then click “calendar” and watch your productivity go way up.

iClass Pro: If you want a more streamlined vehicle to manage your classroom signups, payments and communications via your website platform, this is a great resource. It’s your all-in-one manager for all things class and team related. One of our favorite features here is broadcast text or voice communications for your teams, which is fantastic for on-the-go communications while at competitions or other emergency notifications that your gym families must hear. (ex: “Team Jaguars, our competition time has been changed to 3:23pm. Please meet up at Section 110A by the blue doors 20 minutes earlier than the email notice last night!”). This system offers a free 30-day trial and is priced at $129/month for a single facility thereafter.

WordPress:  This website platform was originally created to help bloggers easily build their websites. WordPress is one of the smartest and easiest (and free) platforms to build your entire cheer website, even if you do not have a blog. (Although you should, and that’s an entirely different post.) The simplicity of WordPress makes it easy to set up, edit your site, add pages, posts and pics…all without needing to wait on (or pay for) a web developer! If you get stuck, though, WordPress is such a common framework, that you can easily find by-the-project contractors to help you on Elance or Odesk, which we discussed in part one of this article.

BlueHost: There are many hosting companies out there, but we recommend this one because they have by far the most reliable service we’ve seen over the years. You can get unlimited email and storage, and prices start as low as $4.95. Bluehost also offers a huge benefit: a very simple one-click system to add your WordPress site, complete with super-easy video tutorials. This alone can save you several hundred dollars by not having to hire someone to add your WordPress to your domain. Full disclosure here—if you do sign up for Bluehost by using this link, we may receive an affiliate commission for referring you. We are transparent about that. But we really do recommend Bluehost because we love it and use it ourselves.

Your own YouTube Channel: Having a YouTube account is different than having a YouTube Channel for your gym. It’s free to make one and will help you drive your brand in big ways, since YouTube is such a dominant search engine. Simply log in to your account, then create your channel by naming it, adding your logo and company descriptions, as well as links back to your site. We suggest naming your channel the same as your Twitter name or website when you set it up. Also, when you begin uploading your videos, place your website link with the complete http:// in the description first, before you start typing what your video actually is. This prevents the link from being cut off in the description section and helps you drive traffic back to your site, which is really the goal in most cases.

It’s been a joy sharing with you.  We consider it a privilege to help build leaders in the cheerleading industry. Stop by and say hello if you run into us during competition season, or stop by our site to learn more about how we can help you in your gym.

As always…we’re cheering you on,

Aly & Andrea


Identical twins Aly Calvo and Andrea Kulberg, M.Ed are leadership development experts and consultants for the cheerleading industry. They are former University of Texas cheerleaders, and former NCA Staff. Andrea is one of the founding partners of a major international event producer, served as the International Representative for the USASF Board of Directors, and is in the USASF Hall of Fame. Aly and Andrea together have been named among the best business coaches in the country and among the “Top 50 Women to Follow on Twitter.” Now, they help coaches, gym owners, and parents have extraordinary experiences within the cheerleading community via their online training, mentorship programs, live events and competitions. For more information about Aly & Andrea, click here or find them on Facebook or Twitter. To request a free consultation for your gym, click here.

To Comp or Not to Comp?

To Comp or Not to Comp?

The divide over whether to provide complimentary tuition to certain athletes, including boys, is not new. For those in the “pro” column, they typically comp athletes with the idea that offering a free ride will attract additional membership to a gym and—in the case of male athletes—round out a team to deliver an edge over the competition.

Shawn Herrera, owner of Simi Valley, CA-based Cheer Force, believes comping athletes is a rampant practice in the industry but concedes it’s something “most gym owners don’t want to discuss or admit to [doing].” In reality, comping usually doesn’t work, Herrera opines. “Comping kids is like saying ‘I don’t believe in my product; we’re not good enough,’” he adds. “When you give people services for free, they don’t value it.”

Herrera uses Cheer Force’s special needs program as an example. “We used to provide free tuition for the kids [with special needs],” he explains. But it didn’t pay off: the kids didn’t take it seriously, and parents weren’t vested. There wasn’t the consequence of “wasting money or time,” Herrera reasons. Ultimately the kids dropped out.

But when Herrera made the decision to begin charging a low monthly $25 fee, something surprising happened: the parents didn’t resist and the kids started showing up. “It added value,” he says. “It was an epiphany: you don’t need to make it free to get kids to join your program.”

For Karen Potucek, co-owner and coach at Fairfield, NJ-based JuST Cheer All Stars, the topic of comping is complicated. “It’s a big issue,” she admits. “I don’t know how I feel about comping in general, but comping boys [versus girls] is not fair.” Potucek understands the need for male athletes but she empathizes with girls who could also use financial help. At 150 kids, her gym is on the smaller side, but “everyone pays,” she says.

Similar to Potucek, Herrera also takes a hard stance on comping athletes, but he does believe in providing financial breaks to his membership in the way of incentives. “For our higher-level athletes, we offer a 50 percent discount in fees based on skills,” he says, meaning if an athlete can perform a complicated tumbling routine or move, they pay less tuition.

Amy Grey, director of Palm Desert, CA-based Desert Elite Mavericks Cheer, has a different take: she considers scholarships and comping necessary. “We don’t do it across the board,” she says. But when they do, it is typically based on one of two things: loyalty, in the case of financial hardship, or the team’s need to entice boys to join. “Male athletes are few and far between,” points out Grey.

While Desert Elite will cover operational costs, such as tuition, it doesn’t mean those athletes receiving scholarships get a free ride. “We will comp their tuition but they pay the hard costs,” Grey notes, referencing “hard costs” as non-tuition-related expenses like uniforms and travel.

Like Grey, Tammy Smith, coach and president of Big Bear Elite Cheer in the resort community of Big Bear Lake, Calif., uses comping to maintain her membership. “[Waiving fees] gives kids a chance,” Smith says.

But Smith’s situation is unique. “Big Bear Lake is a small town and most parents don’t have the money,” she says. She knows firsthand—Smith started Big Bear Elite Cheer in August 2012 at the urging of parents because the alternatives (mostly school teams) were too expensive. Smith’s yearly program costs $150 and includes everything from coaching to uniforms. Competitions are extra, but are paid for by team fundraising and a partnership Smith created with the Lighthouse Project, a local non-profit devoted to creating a child-honoring community.

To date, Smith has 50 kids enrolled and believes her program goes beyond cheerleading. “It builds their confidence and teaches them discipline,” she says. Smith’s biggest motivator: to help all children who want to join her team—regardless of their ability or inability to pay. However, while Smith waives fees for athletes, she doesn’t let them off the hook. “They still have to raise the money,” she says, adding that they have two options: “They can sell candy, which we facilitate, or they can ask someone else to pay.” Smith believes this arrangement doesn’t diminish her program’s value.

It is this risk of diminished value that inspires Cheer Force’s Herrera to look beyond his own views on the issue of comping toward the future. “Comping is just a short-term fix to the problem [attracting new membership],” he says, “and owning a gym is a long-term investment.”

-Cathleen Calkins

Showcase Spotlight: JuST Cheer!

Showcase Spotlight: JuST Cheer!

As family and friends filed into the bleachers, the young cheerleaders of Fairfield, NJ-based JuST Cheer All Stars waited patiently for their turn on the rented spring floor in the clean space of the local high school gymnasium. Outside the gym, the chilly December air permeated the hallway, where a handful of vendors had set up tables and were ready to sell everything from ribbons and JuST Cheer logo tees to pizza, sodas and snacks. The schedule for the day’s event was tight: “First Tinys, then Minis and levels building up to the fives,” says Karen Potucek, co-owner and president of JuST Cheer All Stars, noting that, for many of the athletes, it was their first time performing in front of a crowd.

Despite the jittery cheerleaders sitting cross-legged around the perimeter, this wasn’t a competition—it was simply JuST Cheer’s pre-season showcase. “We’d been doing showcases in one form or another for the past few years,” says Sean Sova, coach and co-owner. “But this was the first time we did one for the whole program in one day, and it was a great success.”

Showcases have all the elements of competition: a cheering crowd, nervous athletes and the desire to do well. It’s also a tool many gyms employ for marketing their facility and their athletes—not just locally, but also online. (For instance, Charlotte All-Stars showcase videos can be viewed on YouTube, and Woodlands Elite streams theirs on CheerLIVE.net.) According to Sova, the benefits are far-reaching, from engaging current athletes to recruiting new talent. “Our cheerleaders invite friends, some from other all-star programs or recreational cheer teams,” says Sova, adding that the showcase helps pique curiosity among these potential clients.

But putting on a showcase is a “considerable” effort, says Potucek. Because their gym doesn’t have bleachers, she and Sova had to make arrangements to use the high school gymnasium. It’s also expensive: JuST Cheer’s outlay included rental of a spring floor for $3,000 and the space for $2,000. To recoup costs, they charged admission of five dollars per head and sold food and gear on-site.

“We broke even,” Potucek says, but notes they could have saved money had they used the spring floor in their gym. Other money-saving initiatives require creativity and planning. For instance, Potucek says they’ve forged unique partnerships in the past, such as asking the high school hockey team for help. “JuST Cheer donated $300 to the team for their assistance,” she says. “That can help make a showcase relatively cheap.”

The use of social media also keeps costs down. “Social media has increased in our gym over the past few years,” says Sova, “and it has been invaluable.” For last year’s showcase, she and Sova sent out “Come See Us” information using Twitter and Facebook and asked parents and kids to do the same. Post-showcase, videos of the day’s event were viewable on YouTube and also distributed via email. “This is extremely helpful in improving routines and preparing [athletes] for upcoming practices,” says Sova. He adds that having the ability to watch showcase video afterward has been “the single most important tool we have to help correct poor technique.”

Showcasing is often also beneficial for family and friends. For many, it is the first time they can see their children perform because travel time and distance for competition can be a challenge for some parents. It also sets the kids up for competing: they experience the feeling of performing and become more comfortable in front of a crowd. “There are accolades, too, which builds confidence,” says Potucek. “I’ve had parents tell me there is no [more] ‘talking them off a cliff’ when it’s time to compete.”

The event is also open to the public. “We do get people from other gyms,” says Potucek. “They want to see what we’re doing or see their friends.” Yet Potucek and Sova agree this is not a negative: it serves to generate interest in JuST Cheer’s program. “We do get a couple of kids out of it,” adds Potucek, whether it is recreational program children looking to step it up as an all-star or cheerleaders from other gyms that like what they see. “They think it was fun and want to join,” he adds

Yet the main motivator for JuST Cheer is to “get the kids on the floor and get them experience,” says Potucek. Sova agrees, adding, “especially those athletes new to all-star cheerleading.”

-Cathleen Calkins


Judges Speak Out: Survey Results

Judges Speak Out: Survey Results

In July, the findings of the United States Cheer Officials Survey were released.  Get a snapshot of the judges’ responses in this recap, or click here to download a PDF of the entire survey.

Just the Facts

  • The current number of judges estimated to be working in the all-star cheer industry is 250; 106 participated in this survey.
  • 36% of respondents have judged 6-10 years, while 29% of respondents have judged 11-15 years.
  • The companies most strongly represented in the survey include Varsity All-Star (70% of respondents), Jam Brands (62%) and Spirit Sports (45%).
  • Not all respondents answered every question, and participants were guaranteed anonymity.


Conditions & Compensation for Judges

Hours worked: 73% of respondents work a 8- to 12-hour day, while 26% responded that they work more than 12 hours at an event.

Lunch breaks: The majority of respondents (55%) said they receive between 20-40 minutes for a lunch break, while 29% of respondents said they receive less than 20 minutes.

Compensation: 54% of respondents receive between $100-$199 for a one-day competition, and 42% said they receive $300-$399 for a two-day competition.

Reimbursement: When asked about reimbursement, 72% answered negatively about travel time; 51% answered negatively about baggage fees; and 44% answered negatively about dining expenses.

Number of Judges: Only 6% of respondents felt that competition companies hire the appropriate number of judges for the amount of teams competing.



45% of respondents felt they had been properly trained on the scoresheet, while 38% felt they had been properly trained on the skills rubric.

26% of respondents felt that competition companies select judges based on their level of expertise for high-stakes divisions.

Only 11% of respondents “strongly agreed” that competition companies select judges based on strength of knowledge.


Survey Recommendations Based On Input

  • Standardize judge selection across brands
  • Implement a judge appraisal process
  • Develop more meaningful communication of rule changes/clarifications
  • Develop a judging organization that is separate and distinct from competition brands
  • Provide for a Head Official at each event
  • Implement a consistent travel reimbursement policy
  • Develop an online voucher system
  • Develop a travel arrangement site that gives judges’ control over flight selection
  • Develop a pay negotiation process
  • Provide Judges’ Break rooms at all competitions
  • Implement a judging hour maximum
  • Close registration the week before scheduled competitions
  • Provide a pay amount consistent with industry standard


Sound Bytes

“I hate the rubrics. I feel that it has taken away all creativity and that the sport of cheerleading has become boring. I hope they will give this sport the freedom it deserves and give more opinion back to the judges—otherwise, they should just calculate what teams are doing by computer and not even have judges.”

“I feel that there should be a ‘rule’ put in place that any competitions with over eight hours of judging involved should use a two-panel, division-rotating panel.”

“I believe that judges need to be compensated more and have more of a say in travel times, etc. Respect for time and appropriate compensation both need to improve in order to increase the quality of judging panels.”

“There definitely needs to be a more universal training and qualification for judging. [I’m] tired of sitting next to judges who are judging just because they know so-and-so.”



We asked Cheer Industry Insights expert Jeff Watkins for his thoughts on the survey’s validity:

“This appears to be a sound study and well-reported. Any time a study can get half of their population to participate, it is definitely representative [of the collective opinion]. It is good for the judges to be able to make an anonymous statement without consequence. The only issue I see is that it was conducted, written, and edited by cheer judges—I believe the study would carry a lot more weight if done by a non-judge.”


Q&A: “Cheer Perfection” star Alisha Dunlap

Q&A: “Cheer Perfection” star Alisha Dunlap

If you love TLC’s “Cheer Perfection,” get ready for more of fiery Alisha Dunlap and her cast of characters at Cheer Time Revolution. Season Two has hit the airwaves! Get to know this opinionated gym owner and find out how “Cheer Perfection” has changed her life:

CP: Share a bit about your cheerleading background.

Alisha: We opened Cheer Time Revolution in 1999, and then I sold the gym in 2004. I had already started a family and wanted more babies. But as time went on, I absolutely missed it—couldn’t stand it. Also, my oldest daughter was awfully talented, and I couldn’t find a gym anywhere in the state that I liked. We were driving 2.5 hours to take her to cheer. In 2007, we re-opened, and today we have 16 teams ranging from Tiny Tots to an open Level 6 team.

As for my own cheer experience, I was on the very first all-star co-ed team in the state of Arkansas, the Cheer Central Braves. I cheered for six years.

 CP: How did the opportunity with TLC come about?

Alisha: My daughter used to do pageants, and they had been asking me for several years to do Toddlers and Tiaras. They wanted to show just the pageant life, but I told them, “Our life is truly cheer, so come into the gym for a few days.” They came in and saw what we had to offer. After T and T aired, we got great hits, and they said, “We want to do this cheer thing selling you guys.”

At the time, I was so busy running two businesses (Pageant Perfection Studios and Cheer Time Revolution), plus a family with three kids. I wasn’t sure what more I could take on my plate. But all of the kids had so much fun on Toddlers and Tiaras; they thought they were superstars. They had a blast! I talked with the parents and kids at the gym, and they said, “Give it a try.” I thought to myself, “I’m going to do this more for the kids than anything.” Since when does a little itty-bitty gym in Arkansas and these kinds of kids get an opportunity like this? So I went for it.

CP: What are the benefits and drawbacks of such large-scale exposure? Have you seen a demonstrable change in interest or prestige since the pilot aired in July?

Alisha: The show isn’t just about cheer—it’s about our lives and interactions. The gym is a “set” for us; it shows how we all work together and get our kids to this point. We have not had any drawbacks. I haven’t lost one kid. In fact, we have doubled in size. When the show aired in July, we went from having small teams to large teams. Our junior team now has 32 [athletes]; we’ve probably gained 60 kids total since the show aired. Our tumbling classes are full, and new kids are coming out of the woodwork wanting to be cheerleaders. It’s generated a ton of hits on our website and Facebook pages.

CP: What advice would you give to cheer professionals who have the opp to put their gym in the spotlight?

Alisha: Pray about it. Go with the flow. Reality shows are reality shows, and editors are editors. Just do what you do best, and hope for the best.

CP: Parental expectations are a big part of the show. How do you strike a balance between keeping parents satisfied and doing what’s best for your gym?

Alisha: We have to set a line. It has to be our way, and that applies to both parents and athletes. We’re always open to suggestions, but our staff as a whole decides on what’s best for the gym. We’re okay with the fact that we might not always be the best fit for all parents or how they want to see a program run. We still have to do what’s best for our gym.

CP: You co-own the gym with your husband RD—any advice on running a business with your spouse?

Alisha: Without the two of us, it wouldn’t work. We love to disagree, but we always have to meet in the middle. We are night and day: I’m very firm, and my coaching style is very different than his. I want to see the overall routine hit and overall athlete to excel. I want their skills to improve and advance quickly, whereas my husband wants to see perfection before progression.

[As a compromise], we start our routines early in June. We have a lot of kids, so it’s about muscle memory. My husband helps them learn the early stunts before we advance. This approach gives us more lead time to accommodate both of our coaching styles. By the end, our kids can do the whole routine backward and forward, with or without music. Then he comes back in before competition season to get the skills absolutely perfect.

CP: The show emphasizes a heavy focus on winning. What’s your philosophy as a coach?

Alisha: Winning is important, but it’s not always about actually winning the trophy. They’re winners if they hit what they’re supposed to hit and do their absolute best. And 99 percent of the time, when the kids give all their effort and execute like they should, they’re going to win. It goes hand-in-hand.

CP: Any response to criticisms that you’re too hard on the cheerleaders?

Alisha: That’s from the outside world. [On TV], I come across as a hard coach, but what they don’t see is that, behind closed doors, I am very rewarding. I expect my kids to be a certain way in practice and I will push them until they get the skill they want to learn. In return, they are rewarded for everything they do. If they go out and have an awesome performance, we have sleepovers and ice cream parties, so it makes them want to work and give 100 percent. It’s all about working toward the skills they want to achieve.

CP: How do you think reality shows about cheer can further the sport as a whole?

Alisha: If all the cheerleading shows can show a positive side of cheer, I think it will be great and can only pick up the numbers. The new show on CMT [“Cheer”] shows a very high-level of kids. My feeling is that maybe the newer kids watching will say, “I couldn’t ever do that,” but with our show, they’ll see that everyone starts form the bottom and has to learn Level One first, so they have a chance. It’s great to have a wide representation across the spectrum.

Can’t get enough Alisha Dunlap? Check out our new “Candid Coach” Q&A with the Cheer Perfection star!

A Day in the Life: Les Stella

A Day in the Life: Les Stella

Get a glimpse into the day-to-day life of USASF’s Les Stella (when he’s not on the road, that is).

5:00 am: Up and at ‘em! I usually start my day with prayer and quiet time, and then it’s off for a barefoot run.

7:00 am: Time for a breakfast—usually eggs and fruit, or sometimes a smoothie. We use a Vitamix blender for all types of great smoothies. We also try to eat breakfast as a family and can pull this off pretty often.

7:30 am: I bring my two sons to school and head into traffic for the 45-minute commute. This is another good time to listen to some podcasts on ministries. It keeps me from getting frustrated with other drivers (most of the time) and helps start the day on a good foot.

8:15 am: I usually start by preparing for the day. I know when I open up my emails that I usually get stuck there, so I review my calendar, meetings, video reviews and other important priorities for the day. My day can consist of everything from conference calls on scoring or rules, to Board or Committee meetings, to answering questions from lawyers or parents, to updating the rules website or handling any “drama” that may have occurred overnight! I try to also check the major social media outlets for any news that I should know about. THEN IT’S EMAIL TIME!!!

12:30 pm: Off to lunch. I try to get my mind out of “cheer” at this time and focus on coaching my boys at soccer, talk to my parents or just read local and national news websites. Then, back to work!

1:30 pm: More emails, meetings and conference calls. After lunch is when I usually do a calendar check to see if I need to book any upcoming flights, hotel rooms or rental cars.

5:00 pm: Traffic is a nightmare! I rush to pick up my boys from after school care, get changed, have a quick snack and run out the door to coach a soccer practice (soon to be football for my youngest son).

5:45 pm: I have learned to love coaching soccer. People always ask if I miss the coaching side of things. The answer is “ABSOLUTELY!” Now I get my coaching “fix” by coaching my sons. When you can train a group of individuals to lean on each other and trust one another to make a cohesive unit, the sky is the limit. I enjoy challenging them mentally and physically, and they are a great group of athletes. I usually get two to four rules phone calls while running practice (and games). I don’t mind as long as the cheer coach on the other end is patient while I call out instructions to my soccer athletes. My soccer parents think I’m a lunatic as I’m on the phone marking cheer stunts or watching stunt videos sent via text while coaching a game.

7:30 pm: This is my favorite time of day. We have a family dinner every night and take turns talking about the highlights of the day. We laugh, play and just enjoy our family time. If we have time after dinner, we may go for a family walk or bike ride. When my wife, Katie, travels to judge at cheer competitions, she is often asked about the latest USASF drama. People are always amazed that she has no idea what they are talking about. We never talk about cheerleading at home, especially in front of the boys. If my sons wanted to cheer, I would let them. However, I don’t want them to feel like they “have” to cheer because that’s what Mom and Dad are involved in all of the time.

9:00 pm: Time to put the boys to bed (if they have finished their homework) and relax with my wife for a bit before bed (and check emails one more time which usually gets me in trouble with Katie).

10:00 pm: Lights out! See you in the morning.

Carbs: Sorting Fat from Fiction

Carbs: Sorting Fat from Fiction

When the Chico Cheer All-Stars travel to UCA Nationals in Orlando, team owner Tiffany Hayes schedules team meals at restaurants such as Planet Hollywood, where her athletes eat chicken sandwiches, pasta and Caesar salads. “While all of the options might not be as nutritionally valuable as what we would choose to make at home, they are much better than having the athletes grab ice cream and churros for dinner while running around Disney World,” says Hayes.

Hayes’ strategy is a familiar one to many coaches: keep out cheap, sugary, processed carbs—essentially everything they sell at event concession stands—and let healthier foods in.

“I encourage carbohydrates in the forms of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains,” said Hayes, who is also a registered dietitian. “I joke with the athletes because they all love carbs. I tell them it’s okay to eat carbohydrates, [but] just try to choose the healthy carbohydrates and create a good balance with protein as well.”

How can a coach tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates? Nutritionist Jonny Bowden says that if you can pull it out of the ground and eat it, it’s a food that contains healthy carbs (such as broccoli, spinach or bell peppers). Everything else is suspect. Once you identify healthy carbs for your athletes, here are some other tips to keep in mind:

Set an example. Team meals are teachable moments. “Whenever I eat around my athletes, I eat complete meals with a variety of nutrients,” says Tiana Beich, a Chico All-Stars coach and dietetics student. “I also bring healthy snacks to competitions and practices.”

Optimize your snack bar. Another way athletes absorb proper diet principles is at the gym snack bar. According to Stephanie Beveridge, the executive director of programs at Copperas Cove, TX-based GymKix, the snack bar at her gym sells fresh foods, cheese sticks, organic yogurt squeezers, Orgain protein shakes, Zevia all-natural diet soda, Switch sparkling juice, CLIF bars, Terra chips, Rip Slush, Sensible dried fruit, mixed nuts, all-natural applesauce, Umpqua oatmeal and natural beef jerky.

Head off the parent problem. Parents often bring cupcakes, cake and cookies—the types of processed carbs coaches don’t want kids eating—to the gym for celebrations. Hayes says her gym encourages parents to portion treats in individual servings to take home. “We no longer see large cakes and brownies being brought in before practice,” Hayes says. “Our staff focuses on the birthday song and having an entertaining practice more than the food associated with the event.”

Read the labels. Beveridge encourages athletes to read labels. Since many labels can be confusing, she breaks it down in a way that’s easy to understand—basically, anything with more than five ingredients or anything not easily recognized or pronounced likely isn’t a good food option.

“We try to keep it simple,” says Beveridge. “It’s hard enough to teach stunting and tumbling, but to try to explain why medium chain triglyceride fats are good and hydrogenated oils are bad would literally make their head spin.  We tell them to try to shop on the outside aisles of the grocery store because that is where the meat, dairy and fresh foods are located.”

Say “no” to carb-loading. Should athletes alter their diets and “carb-load” (i.e. “stuff themselves with pasta”) before an event? Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, RD, author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook, says unless an athlete is going to physically exert himself or herself for more than 90 minutes the next day, the answer is no. Clark encourages athletes to always fuel up and refuel with a healthy carb-based diet that includes pasta, potatoes, rice, fruits and vegetables while taking a rest day before competition. The rest day gives muscles time to store carbs for competition.


GTM Sportswear Spotlight: Les Stella

GTM Sportswear Spotlight: Les Stella

Ahh, the holidays—the perfect time to get away from work and relax, right? Not the case for Les Stella. From Easter to Christmas Eve to Thanksgiving, no day is too sacred for the hundreds of coaches worldwide who call Stella day in and day out to clarify USASF rules. “The only day I haven’t gotten a call is Christmas,” shares Stella. “Calls come in at all hours, since we do this for the world, not just the U.S. It’ll be the middle of the night, and I’ll get a call from Australia. It’s all over the map.”

Most would probably draw the line at giving out their personal cell phone numbers to an entire industry of cheer professionals, but Stella considers it all in a day’s work as USASF’s Executive Director of Rules. He keeps his iPad on him at all times for easy reference and to double-check for accuracy.

“My role is basically the keeper/enforcer of the rules,” says Stella, who is currently developing a database that will make it much easier to reference rules and their interpretations. “A lot of people assume that it’s the world according to Les Stella, but I’m just a part of the committee. However, at the end of the day, there has to be a ‘bottom line’ person—and that’s me.”

So how did Stella amass such an encyclopedic knowledge of all-star cheerleading and its intricacies? Attribute his passion and penchant for cheer to 30 years spent in the sport. Stella first started cheering in 1983 as a De La Salle High School student in New Orleans after his karate troupe was approached by a group of cheerleaders: “I was outside with a few buddies working on our [karate] form, when three attractive females came up to us and said, ‘You have really sharp motions—want to try a stunt?’ I was hooked ever since.”

After high school, Stella went on to cheer for three different colleges and become a UCA camp instructor. From there, his cheer career included coaching positions at Germantown High School and The Ultimate Cheer School (TUCS), as well as at a large gymnastics gym in Georgia. While taking his teams to competition, Stella was keenly aware of the fact that routines had to be altered constantly to fit the rules for each different event. This observation caused a light bulb moment for him in 2003: what if there was a governing body that could help regulate and create more consistency?

Stella quickly set up a meeting, asking for two hours of Bill Seely’s time and two hours of Jeff Webb’s time. “All the years I’d worked for UCA, I’d never asked for a favor, so I called one in,” he remembers. “[They said], ‘The good news is: you have great ideas and we like everything you have to say. The bad news is we just started a governing body. The ham sandwich is that we want to make an offer to you to move to Memphis and help start the USASF.’”

Les Stella with Morton Bergue, Elaine Pascale and Dan Kessler at NACCC

In his decade with the USASF, Stella has become one of its most recognizable faces and figures. He is known as the “Rules Guy,” running the committee and traveling to regional meetings to train safety judges on interpreting the rules. Though his job can often be tension-filled and stressful, Stella says he understands when coaches hotly debate a penalty. “When I was a coach, I needed someone to turn to for answers, so I can have empathy for coaches in those situations,” says Stella. “I don’t take it personally—they’re just defending their business, their kids, the way they pay their mortgage.”

That isn’t the only way Stella supports other cheer professionals. He soon plans to revive the “Les Stella Coaches’ Challenge,” a motivational Facebook group dedicated to fitness, and “Good for Cheer,” an initiative Stella is spearheading to create more media awareness around the positive side of cheerleading. “I get so sick and tired of mainstream media only talking about cheerleading when something bad happens,” shares Stella. “I’m collecting stories that provide a counterpoint to those negative ones.”

It’s all part of a deep passion for cheer that drives Stella every single day. “I’ve seen what cheer does for kids—thousands and thousands who come out of their shells and develop skills that follow them for life,” he says. “It’s such a cliché, but that’s what I truly believe.”

Candid Coach: Karrie Tumelson

Candid Coach: Karrie Tumelson

After nearly a decade running the all-star program at St. Peters, MO-based Spirit Elite, Karrie Tumelson is on to a new adventure doing choreography, camps and clinics—with plans to eventually open her own gym. Nominated by The JAM Brands as “Coach of the Year” in 2010 and USASF certified through Level 5, Tumelson has learned a lot in the trenches about inspiring athletes to achieve their best. For our “Athletes” issue, we asked Tumelson to share her hard-earned secrets for coaching success:


What are some coaching flubs you’ve made throughout the years, and how did you learn from them?

Tumelson: [I’ve learned that] skipping steps in the foundation of skills to progress is definitely not a good idea. In stunting, it’s important to make sure kids have solid foundational Level 1 skills before moving on to Level 2 skills. You might have kids that come [onto] a Level 2 team, and you may just start working at the beginning of that season on Level 2 skills instead of going back and reinforcing the foundation of a level lower. Over time, I’ve learned to take time in the summer to reinforce those skills rather than jumping right in.

Do you often encounter parents who think their child should be on a different level team? How do you handle that?

Tumelson: Education is key in getting parents and athletes to understand proper progressions, as well as the different levels and how the scoresheet works. It’s also important to build strong relationships with parents so that they trust your opinion. We’ve had people leave because they wanted to be on a different level, but you have to be consistent and do what you believe is right. A lot of times, they go to another gym and, in time, the concerns I had come to fruition. When you put a young one on a senior team, they’re often burnt out in two years—they’ve already done all there is to do.

What are the issues you most often encounter around athletes?

Tumelson: The biggest obstacle is getting athletes to understand the nature of a team sport and accept all teammates for who they are and tap into everyone’s strengths. Obviously there will be personality clashes on every team, but a team who can’t see the bigger picture will struggle. A team that gets along can do great things.

One of your athletes at Spirit Elite, Janie Pascoe, dedicated the winnings from her America’s Best “Athlete of the Year” award to Sandy Hook Families. How do you encourage athletes to give back?

Tumelson: We always talk about providing for the less fortunate, and every holiday season we adopt a family to provide for kids that are less fortunate [than] they are. We do a lot of volunteer work; we’ve always done the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure every year as a gym. We’ve also done food drives. I think a lot of it, too, is just awareness. Cheerleading is a very expensive sport, and not every child can afford it. So we continually remind them of being appreciative of what they do have, and remind them of those children that don’t have these opportunities because of financial stabilities or whatever the reason may be. [We] try to expose them to that so they do appreciate what they have more, and it also encourages them to get involved and give back.

-Mandi Hefflinger

A Long & Winding Road for LGBT

A Long & Winding Road for LGBT

Have the industry truly come a long way? CheerProfessional explores the treatment of gay athletes in all-star cheerleading.

For Mike Blaylock, director of Midlothian, VA-based FAME All Stars, all-star cheerleading’s evolving attitude toward gay athletes in sports can be summed up one way: The fact that he can talk openly about his upcoming wedding to his partner of five years, Adam, in the gym.

“What I love is when I have little girls in my gym begging to be flower girls,” he says, fighting back tears. “I have little girls, that the day of the wedding—this makes me emotional talking about it—but they want to be involved. Not because it would be fun or different, just because they recognize that the bond I have with this person with whom I spend my life. They respect that it’s not a mockery, and it’s not fake. They respect it enough to where they would be a part of it if they could.”

When Blaylock talks about his gym’s 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds recognizing his relationship in the same way they recognize “quote-unquote traditional relationships,” he gets choked up. Because according to Blaylock, that positive reception wouldn’t have been the case 15 years ago in all-star cheerleading.

One Step Forward, One Step Back

All-star cheer isn’t the only area that has made some strides—in April, Washington Wizards player Jason Collins made history when he became the first openly gay male athlete playing in a major sport. Professional athletes from sports organizations including the NFL, NHL, pro soccer and ESPN, among others, have also banded together to form the You Can Play organization. Its motto: “Gay athletes. Straight allies. Teaming up for respect.”

Yet some feel we haven’t come far enough. Though most would assume that the last place sexuality would be an issue would be all-star cheerleading, a USASF rule made last spring cast doubt on the industry’s acceptance level. The rule mandated that males “minimize exaggerated or theatrical movements,” and many in the industry viewed it as discrimination against gay cheerleaders. The rule was later retracted, but the spotlight on the issue brought the treatment of gay athletes in competitive cheerleading to the forefront.

The recent controversy begs the question: What’s the climate for gay athletes in cheerleading gyms today?

That Was Then

Blaylock remembers all too well being discriminated against as a high school cheerleader via “harsh statements” to his face and behind his back from fellow students outside of his squad. Since starting his coaching career in 1998, he has slowly experienced a significant difference in the way he is viewed.

“The treatment back then wasn’t that it was negative, as far as in-your-face negative,” says Blaylock. “It was more of the ‘Let’s keep this quiet’ attitude or ‘Let’s not put that out there so much.’ And as time has passed and perspectives have changed, the ability to be who you are as a coach—and discuss those kinds of matters without the fear of ridicule or fear of being included in certain things—has [risen] dramatically.”

This Is Now

Not all gyms have specific policies for inclusion, but some do have unwritten rules about acceptance.

“[At FAME All-Stars], we’ve never had to create a tolerance policy because it’s just a universally known idea that we’re accepting,” Blaylock says. “We’ve never had to address with our parents or our team that one behavior should not be frowned on. I know that that is my own little bubble, but I have to say that I’m proud of that bubble.”

Over at ACE Cheer Company, based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi (a part of the country that skews conservative), co-owner Brandon Roberts says they take a strict anti-bullying stance, going as far as to sit down with parents and athletes if they hear kids making anti-gay comments about other athletes or coaches.

“We now have 11 locations, and it doesn’t matter the location—whether it’s Nashville or as far south as Pensacola. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, or if you fall into the Bible Belt; [we make sure] the entire program and all of the families are loving and accepting of all of our athletes. That’s the one thing that we really push,” Roberts says. “It’s about safety. It’s about sticking with your brothers and sisters no matter what, and [being] there for them.”

But the self-expression and tolerance that ACE and FAME encourage isn’t the case everywhere. Some local gyms, Roberts says, still encourage their athletes to keep their sexual identity a secret or turn athletes away from their program because of their sexuality. He tells the story of one gay athlete who switched from another gym to ACE as a high school senior and finally came out at the end of the season.

“He said the one thing that our program taught him was that it was okay to be himself,” Roberts says. “It wasn’t that our program turned him or changed him; it was just the fact that he felt like he had to be silent or couldn’t say anything because of the [former] program he was at. [He felt] that he would be bullied or kicked off the squad, or that they wouldn’t allow him or they would out him to their entire school. It’s a shame that that still happens.”

Rules of Engagement

Circling back to that controversial USASF rule, depending on whom you talk to, the rule was either a pointed dig at gay athletes or a more broad-based nudge toward how the federation wanted the sport to look.

“I was offended [by the rule], to be quite honest,” says Blaylock. “I felt that in a sport that I think that that is so huge in comparison to other sports, in which we teach and advocate for so much inclusion, I felt that [the rule] was hypocritical and contradictory to one of the most wonderful things about our sport. It was so against what I think event producers and coaches and parents and athletes have worked so hard to create. To get that wording from the USASF board really came across as a slap in the face to not want to carry on that wonderful sense of inclusion that we have in our sport.”

However, Roberts felt the rule could be interpreted differently than merely a slam to gay cheerleaders—and that “flamboyant” performance of any kind, from gay or straight athletes, isn’t necessarily in line with what some gyms, ACE included, preach. He says he has asked individuals to tone down their performance if it takes away from a squad’s “uniform” look. For example, ACE does not include makeup for boys or body glitter when it performs in order to encourage what Roberts describes as an “all-American” style.

“I did think that when [the rule] came out that it was pointed in a certain direction; however, you had to look at it both ways, and I wasn’t going to jump on the side that this is homophobia,” he says. “But we have to look at what are we putting out as an industry. Are we scaring other people away from joining our program? Are we putting the label that every male cheerleader will immediately be [assumed] gay? Or is this a way of telling individuals not to be themselves? I think we as an industry and we as a gym had to look at what exactly they were asking and how we interpret it.”

Despite the rule and its subsequent controversy, Blaylock says he is optimistic about the future of all-star cheerleading’s role in equality for all sexual orientations.

“What I am hoping we achieve is…when you see an athlete walking by who may not have proper gender behavior, you don’t even notice, you don’t even turn your head—that’s when we’ve achieved some serious groundwork, and I believe we’re on that path.”

-Jamie Beckman


Fast Facts: At-Large Bids

Fast Facts: At-Large Bids

Are too many at-large bids being given to The Cheerleading Worlds? Before you read our “Two Sides” debate on the topic, get the facts and stats surrounding it.

**209 at-large bids were awarded to Worlds in 2013. 86 full paid bids and 12 partially paid bids were also awarded. (Source: TheRoadtoWorlds.com)

**In 2013, each paid and partially paid bid to The Cheerleading Worlds cost sponsoring event producers between $7,000 and $25,000. (Source: USASF.net)

**During the 2012-2013 season, event producers classified as “Tier One” were permitted to award three at-large bids for each fully paid bid at the same national championship. Event producers classified as “Tier Two” were permitted to award one at-large bid for each partially paid bid at the same Worlds qualifying event. (Source: USASF.net)

40 event producers awarded at-large bids to Worlds in 2013. The most were given by NCA All-Star Nationals and Cheersport Nationals (18 apiece). See the breakdown by event producer:

18 at-large bids

NCA All-Star Nationals

Cheersport Nationals

10 at-large bids

UCA International All-Star Championship

Cheer Power Midwest World Bid National Championship

7 at-large bids

Jamfest Super Nationals

One Up Championship

6 at-large bids

ACDA – Reach the Beach All Star Nationals

American Cheerleaders Association Cheer Nationals

Champion Spirit Group Super Nationals

Cheer America Cheer Bowl National Championships

Cheer Tech – Spirit National Championships

COA Midwest National Pure Championship

Coastal Corporation – Battle at the Capital

GLCC Grand Showdown

JAMZ All-Star Nationals

Spirit Fest Nationals

Spirit Sports – Duel in the Desert

USA All-Star Championships

WSA Grand Nationals

21 other event producers awarded at-large bids (with five awarding 5 bids; two awarding 4 bids; five awarding 3 bids; four awarding 2 bids; and five awarding 1 bid.) (Source: TheRoadtoWorlds.com)

The Juice on Juicing

The Juice on Juicing

7:30 am: workout. 10 am: marketing strategy meeting. 3 pm: tumbling class. 5 pm: all-star practice. 8 pm: perfectly balanced, high-nutrition meal you lovingly prepared at home. If you found yourself nodding until that very last part, you’re not alone—amidst all the demands of a typical day at the gym, finding time to eat ideal meals is often a tall task. So how do celebrities and star athletes stay energized and fit on their jam-packed schedules? The whispered word on the street is “juicing.”

No, we’re not talking illegal drugs. This juice is the grandma-approved kind: fruits and vegetables, liquefied through a juicer (or blender, if you prefer to retain more fiber). What makes juicing so special is that devotees say the right combos can help them lose weight, power up even more than from caffeine and even improve their looks and body function.

“Juicing has lowered my cholesterol about 90 points, and along with working out, it helped me lose about 18 to 20 pounds,” says Carlos Onofre, co-owner of Chatsworth, CA-based West Coast Rush, who favors green juices like wheatgrass. “I usually have it in the morning at least three times a week; I use it as a meal replacement.” Though Onofre admits that cleaning out the juicer can be “a pain,” he thinks the results are well worth it.

Wondering if juicing is worth your time and effort? Get a sense of what it’s all about:

Small sips, big impact: For those who think juicing can’t replace a big salad, think again. “In a fairly small glass of pressed juice, you’re capturing much of the nutrition found in several handfuls of produce,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, sports nutritionist to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays and author of S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Vouches Onofre, “It’s incredibly energizing; you instantly feel it.”

Careful about calories: Keep in mind that juicing sugary fruits can be a quick way to swallow more calories than you would if you were chewing. To keep sugars in check, “make sure to include green veggies and that no more than one-half to one-third of the ingredients come from fruit,” recommends Jared Koch, nutritional consultant and founder of the healthy eating site CleanPlates.com. “Spinach or kale are great options, and adding lemon is also a [lean] way to enhance the flavor.”

Not so fast: An increasingly popular trend is the extreme “juice fast,” in which participants replace all their meals with juices for a set number of days. Some say the challenging ritual eliminates toxins and facilitates quick weight loss, but experts say it’s actually smarter to add juice to a healthy diet. “Without protein, you lack the building blocks needed to maintain or heal the muscle mass you have, or build new muscle tissue,” cautions Sass. “Also, if you aren’t taking in enough fuel, your metabolism may slow down in an attempt to become more fuel efficient.”

As far as the energized feeling that some claim they get from fasting, that could be your body going into starvation mode. “I’ve seen many people rebound-overeat after ending a juice cleanse because they felt so starved and deprived during it,” says Sass. “That yo-yo pattern can result in losing muscle during the cleanse and gaining body fat afterward.”

You get what you pay for: Kiwis and mangos and beets, oh my! Though it may be tempting to buy non-organic produce in order to save money, Koch is an advocate of playing it safe. “To avoid pesticides, choose organic—especially for fruits that go into the juicer with their skin on,” he recommends.

The type of juicer you choose matters, too. Traditional centrifugal juicers grind produce against a round, spinning blade and tend to be cheaper than “cold press” juicers. However, cold press juicers compress instead of grinding fruits and veggies, yield more juice and do a better job of juicing greens. Also, because cold press juicers don’t heat up, the juices tend to be more nutrient-rich.

An adventure for your taste buds: And the final reason to try juicing? The taste. “Today, I had celery, spinach, orange, carrots and a piece of pineapple,” says Onofre. “It might sound kind of disgusting, but I’ve actually let the kids try it, and they love it. It’s shockingly good.”

Visit the CheerProfessional blog for some awesome juicing recipes from our experts!

-Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh

Mind and Body Medicine: Meditation!

Mind and Body Medicine: Meditation!

Ozell Williams has always been a man in motion. When not cheering at games or competing with his squad at the University of Colorado – Boulder, Williams is entertaining Denver Broncos fans with his power tumbling team, the Mile High Tumblers. Though stillness doesn’t come naturally for the college junior and Tumblers’ founder/CEO, Williams swears by regular meditation—a habit he says helps to heal his body, recharge his mind and optimally manage his multiple endeavors. 

“To connect with others, you need to learn how to tap into your emotions, but first you need to learn to connect with yourself,” says Williams. “Meditation helps me do that.”

So what is meditation, exactly? Put simply, meditation is the practice of calming the mind in order to achieve a state of deep contentment and/or reflection. (Translated from Sanskrit, the term means “peacefully abiding.”) For nearly half a century, Westerners have known about meditation, but many still don’t fully understand the practice or its benefits. Scientific studies show that meditating can decrease stress and burnout; enhance creativity; promote relaxation and restful sleep; and maximize oxygen efficiency.

“Meditation is one of the best tools we have to go beyond the mind’s noisy chatter and experience the peace of present moment awareness,” says Kyla Stinnett, a certified primordial sound meditation instructor at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. Intrigued? Get a primer on achieving this mystical mindset:

Dispel preconceived ideas. The uninitiated may believe meditation involves sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop for hours on end. Not so, says Michael Miller, who operates meditation centers in New York and London. “Meditation is very much for the modern world,” he says. “People often think meditation is having to adopt a philosophy, belief system or religion—but it’s a simple mental technique.”

Indirectly, meditation can help coaches and gym owners become better role models for athletes—offering a prime example of good self-care, adds Miller.

No incense or candles needed. University of Connecticut alumna Kimberly Daniels had accumulated a laundry list of injuries during her days as a cheerleader and UCA camp instructor. In 2000, she discovered meditation, which not only nourished her mind but also diminished the pain from her cheering-related injuries.

Now a meditation teacher, Daniels indicates that the practice can be done almost anywhere for any length of time. “Try to find a comfortable place, close your eyes and focus on the breath. Listen to the sound of each inhale and exhale, acknowledging thoughts but letting them go,” she says.

While daily practice is ideal, Daniels notes that in today’s overscheduled world, it’s necessary to be flexible. When time poses a challenge, a quiet nature walk is better than nothing. “You could even meditate for five minutes in the car on your way to cheer practice,” she adds. “See what works for you. Once you start making time for meditation and you skip a day or two, you really miss it.”

Carve out some downtime. Williams manages to incorporate meditation at least twice a day, often when relaxing in the steam room. “I listen to music and relax my body, going into my deepest thoughts,” he says. Not only does it help Williams decompress, but meditation is also key in helping him navigate his attention-deficit hypertension disorder—bringing about more focus and patience as he goes about his day.

Though the results are well worth it, it does take considerable time and dedication to incorporate meditation into everyday life. Like most habits, it takes 21 days for meditation to become ingrained; it’s important to establish routine by practicing at the same time for as many days as possible (even if just for five minutes). Though calming the mind can be challenging at first, stillness often becomes easier over time. The best way to reap the rewards, according to Stinnett? “Stick with it.” 

Peace Be With You: A Quick How-To 

To begin, find a comfortable position either 1) sitting on the floor with legs crossed loosely or 2) in a chair with feet flat and knees bent. Keep your spine erect but not stiff, and place your hands on the thighs, palms up. Relax your fingers, jaw and tongue and tuck in your chin slightly. Close your eyes and listen to the breath. (You may choose to play some soft music or burn incense and/or a candle, but this is optional.) As you turn your awareness inward, notice any thoughts or emotions that come into your mind. Don’t try to force them away, but gently bring your attention back to the breath. Continue breathing in your normal pattern.


Growing Pains: Going from Small to Large Gym

Growing Pains: Going from Small to Large Gym

The line between small and large gym is drawn by USASF, which defines small gyms as having 75 or less athletes and having one physical location. So is crossing the threshold can be as simple as the difference of just one athlete? Far from it—as making the jump from small to large status can often multiply the risks, rewards and responsibilities associated with running your gym. 

Just ask Candace Guilford, owner of Florida-based Winter Park Cheer Athletics. Guilford relocated her gym in May 2012, shifting from a 4,200 square-foot facility to a 12,000 square-foot space. She felt that the gym was “bursting at the seams,” which prompted the move. Though the extra floor space has been a plus, Guilford says it’s managing the extra bodies that can be a challenge. “I don’t think I expected all of the fires that I am constantly putting out,” says Guilford. “Spending time with coaches, dealing with the kids—when you go from three or four small squads to eight or nine larger teams, it’s a jump. It can be a scheduling nightmare.”

Like Guilford, Pattie Brower of Tri-State Cheer in Havertown, Pennsylvania, has wrestled with similar challenges after expanding her gym. The expansion doubled the gym in size to 14,000 square feet and added a second 54’ x 42’ spring floor and 42’ x 48’ flat floor. Since the ribbon-cutting ceremony last year, Brower has focused her energy on finding ways to keep the space afloat. “Structurally, scheduling teams was never a challenge,” she says. “The challenge is that off time, the fill-in time that offsets the cost of expanding. I just thought, ‘What am I going to do since my costs have doubled?’”

For Brower, the answer so far has been renting space to outside athletes and teams. However, she cautions that gym owners should seriously consider these extra costs when thinking about expanding or moving—rather than just jumping into the decision because they feel like bigger is better. It’s easy to feel energized and optimistic by the success of mega-gyms, but many owners who’ve made the leap say that athletes and their safety should be the primary focus, rather than shiny new equipment or gigantic facilities.

“Don’t get bit by the industry bug and think you definitely need a bigger gym and better equipment,” Guilford continues. “You could easily end up in debt.”

Timing is Everything 

For both Brower and Guilford, the right time came when they felt they had no other alternative. “Making that huge jump was scary,” says Brower. “We waited until we had the right amount of athletes, and we became so large that [it was necessary] to break through the wall and expand.”

Guilford is also an advocate of waiting until your program has physically outgrown its space to make any major decisions. For her, the right formula was waiting until every minute and every inch was optimized before making a move. “All you need is a floor if you have great coaching,” advises Guilford. “Don’t try to jump into a larger location too fast—instead, use your floor time wisely. Don’t move until you maximize your space seven days a week.”

Proper budgeting is also paramount to determining feasibility. It’s important to connect with owners of similar-sized gyms to get a realistic idea of monthly costs, as well as to work closely with a bookkeeper and/or business consultant to estimate projected expenses. (To determine a “break-even budget,” ACX’s Randy Dickey advises taking all of your bills and dividing the total by how many hours the gym is open—it may be helpful to compare your current number and the projected number to see how much they differ.) So is it the right time? Let your ledger do the talking.

Keeping the Small Gym Feel

Stephanie Hoot-Whiddon has been through it all at Richmond, TX-based Texas Thunder—from growth to downsizing to an upcoming move in June to a larger facility. (The Texas Thunder website says it’s “Where Large Gym Talent meets the Small Gym Atmosphere!”) Keeping that close-knit, personal feel is important to coaches like Hoot-Whiddon, and like Guilford and Brower, she does not think bigger always equals better. “This industry is constantly changing,” says Hoot-Whiddon. “A lot of people in this industry don’t do this to get rich, and there’s a lot to be said for smaller gyms. I really do it for the kids.”

That seems to be a common thread between owners who have expanded their gym size. It’s easy for kids and athletes to get lost in the shuffle when the numbers grow, so owners must make extra effort to make them feel like they’re an important part of the gym family. For example, Brower’s gym has team bonding events and sleepovers, and Guilford places top priority on making sure “the kids aren’t just a number where you don’t even know their names.”

For Hoot-Whiddon, “finding a responsible staff is the biggest challenge” when a gym is expanding in size. After all, when growth necessitates hiring more coaches and employees, it can be doubly challenging to find the right employees—and make sure they match your values. “My ultimate goal was to have a bigger program but also keep that one-on-one, fun, friendly atmosphere. Losing that was my biggest fear,” Guilford admits in retrospect. 

For many gym owners, it boils down to whether you’ve done the proper legwork, whether the timing is right and whether you’re expanding for the right reasons. As Brower says, when all those things come together, “The reward outweighs the risk.”

Eyes Off the Prize: All-Star Prep and Half-Year Teams

Eyes Off the Prize: All-Star Prep and Half-Year Teams

Are all-star prep and lower-level teams the future of all-star cheerleading?

Over this past weekend, hundreds of athletes converged on Walt Disney World for an epic cheer competition. Worlds? Not exactly. This year marks the debut of the Summit, a Varsity All-Star event catering to teams in non-Worlds divisions. Following a similar template to Worlds, the Summit awarded 107 paid bids and 355 at-large bids to more than 450 teams of all levels. “[The aim] is to allow some of the very best non-Worlds teams to compete head-to-head at one time and in one location,” says Varsity’s John Newby.

It’s all part of what appears to be a movement away from the ultra-competitive focus on Levels 5 and 6—and toward a return to the more recreational aspect of cheer. “So much emphasis has been put on the highest-level teams in the country trying to qualify and be part of Worlds that the majority of programs haven’t had the same opportunity,” adds Newby. “We think this [event] will balance some of the attention to only the highest-level teams and create some exciting new opportunities.”

Another recent development in this vein is the introduction of All-Star Prep, geared toward half-year and less competitive teams. USASF treated the 2012-2013 season as a pilot period for this new division, which is characterized by a shorter two-minute routines, a simplified tumbling category and a “no crossovers” rule. Currently non-sanctioned, the All-Star Prep division does not count toward a Worlds bid and is offered by event producers like Epic, CheerSport and Jam Brands.

“The prep division has really helped us because we can take inexperienced kids and give them a taste of competition without going the full gamut with a Level 1 or 2 team,” says Karlette Fettig, co-owner of Indiana Elite in Noblesville, Indiana. “[Gym owners] should be focusing on bringing kids in at a lower level because they’ll be the Level 4 and 5 cheerleaders one day.”

What’s driving this relatively new trend? In CheerProfessionals recent “State of the Union” panel, experts including Fettig attributed the shift to the economy. With many families struggling, all-star gyms must find ways to make their programs affordable in order to retain clients and continue to attract new athletes.

“This remains a very difficult economic time,” says Fettig’s co-owner Bethe Beaver. “Families have been forced to make some tough decisions, and we are very fortunate that so many of our families have been able to remain at the gym.”

Fettig and Beaver credit that level of retention to their introduction of half-year teams, a method that a growing number of gyms are using to get cheerleaders through their doors. These teams start later in the season (usually in December) and keep costs down by attending local competitions, choosing less expensive uniforms and not requiring matching practice wear. They also have lower tuition, but still receive benefits such as tumbling classes and clinics.

East Celebrity Elite is another gym finding a new niche through half-year teams. Owner Cheryl Pasinato believes half-year teams serve two main purposes: 1) giving children an introduction to all-star cheer and a taste of competition, and 2) ensuring there are athletes in the gym—even if they can’t make a full-year commitment. Pasinato knows all too well what it’s like to feel the financial pinch, as the state of the economy played a role in necessitating her gym’s merger four years ago. (And East Celebrity Elite is far from the only one—Beaver says that many gyms in her area have merged, taking the number of gyms within a 20-mile radius from 10 to just three.)

Both Pasinato and Beaver also cite another benefit to the half-year programs: the opportunity to develop relationships with local recreational cheer programs. “Throughout the year, we work with several local organizations and their recreational cheer programs,” says Beaver. “Typically, the feedback from the organizers and parents involved was always very positive, but we had been struggling to find a way to get them more involved with what we do. The half-year program seemed to be the perfect starter program for many of these families.”

Pasinato takes it a step further, often recruiting coaches to come coach East Celebrity Elite’s half-year teams. “We have a good relationship with the youth coordinators and a lot of them do encourage their kids [to participate in half-year teams],” says Pasinato. “A lot of them are very good coaches, and they’ve done a really good job.”

Of course, not all gyms are heading in this direction. Top Gun All-Stars, known to many as a “Worlds gym,” has taken some measures to make its younger teams more affordable—but co-owner Kristen Rosario says that change is due more to parents’ reluctance to commit to such an expensive sport before getting a full indication of their child’s interest.

“Other than that, we really have not made changes to our all-star program as far as pricing,” Rosario explains. “We did, however, decrease the number of out-of-town competitions [to which] we travel.” She adds that this still gives Top Gun teams plenty of opportunities to compete, as there is an “overabundance” of competitions from which to choose while still staying closer to home.

Regardless of their current direction, gyms are still providing many opportunities for young people to get into all-star cheer—from the more recreational focus to the strongly competitive bent. And they remain optimistic about the futures of their programs.

For Top Gun, keeping families invested is about providing a quality experience backed up by a strong legacy. “I do believe that the name that many gyms have built for themselves can, in fact, be some help,” Rosario says. “Obviously, if you’re going to pay for something that is as expensive as cheerleading, you’d rather pay for it in a place where you know that you’re going to get good training and see good results.”

For Indiana Elite, it’s about staying flexible and conforming to clients’ needs. “Bottom line—we are open to adding new classes and programs that we believe will benefit the families in our program and/or in our area,” says Beaver. “It is our goal to provide a program and an atmosphere that is positive for our team members and their families, and it is our hope that if we can continue to provide an environment that the kids and their parents like, then we will prosper.”

Effect-ing Change: The Sparkle Effect

Effect-ing Change: The Sparkle Effect

Just over a decade ago in 2001, the Kentucky Elite Showcats were the first and only special needs cheer team in the country. Today, the trend has exploded with more than 500 squads in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and divisions popping up at major events like Cheersport, NCA and Worlds. At the forefront of the movement? 19-year-old Sarah Cronk, founder of the Sparkle Effect—a non-profit that has spawned more than 87 special needs teams in its singular quest to make cheer an inclusive sport for all.

To the casual observer, Cronk might resemble any other go-getter college sophomore—she’s a senior resident adviser in her dorm at Whitman College, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sister and certified yoga instructor. Yet Cronk has been an active entrepreneur and changemaker since the age of 15, when she was first inspired to spark the Sparkle Effect. At the time, Cronk and her teammates from Bettendorf, IA-based Pleasant Valley High School had just conducted a cheer clinic at the Iowa Special Olympics. During the experience, Cronk was struck by how easy it was to adapt cheerleading across varying skill levels—and the way it gave everyone an opportunity to shine in the spotlight.

That revelation, coupled with the fact that her autistic older brother was thriving on the school swim team, planted the seedling for Sparkle Effect. “I wanted to use cheerleading, which was my passion, to do the same for other kids,” says Cronk. “It’s so fun, too! You get to see everyone’s smiles. Communities rally around cheerleading and we found that tying inclusion into that really creates a perfect storm.”

Originally, Cronk’s efforts were tied exclusively to Pleasant Valley HS, where she and her squad created the Spartan Sparkles—the country’s first high school-based inclusive cheer team—by securing grants from Do Something and local rotary organizations. Yet when inquiries started pouring in about how to start a similar team, Cronk knew she was meant for a bigger mission, and the Sparkle Effect was born.

SVia a free “Quick Start” kit on the Sparkle Effect website, interested parties can download a full toolkit for starting a special needs team (such as fundraising tips, grant applications and step-by-step advice). Cronk and her team have also partnered with Varsity for a uniform grant program, and Sparkle Effect reps travel around the country offering free on-site training to new special needs startups.

As president of the non-profit, Cronk’s day-to-day duties run the gamut from planning campaigns, managing various teams, assisting with trainings, handling public relations and overseeing the board of directors and part-time employees. Last summer, she spearheaded the promotional “Are You In?” tour, traveling to various UCA and UDA camps to generate interest in the Sparkle Effect. “The scope I learned as a cheerleader about mobilizing people to take action and fostering a spirit of community has definitely taken me a long way,” shares Cronk.

Not that the road has always been smooth—at the outset, Cronk was a teenager with virtually no business experience, and she occasionally struggled with being taken seriously. Yet by staying the course and securing corporate partners like Varsity, Cronk and the organization were able to truly take off. These days, her biggest challenge is often juggling the demands of attending college and running a non-profit simultaneously.

“It’s taken a lot of practice, and it’s not always easy,” Cronk says, adding that she’ll often delegate duties when she can’t leave campus. “It’s really just about staying on top of things. Sleep sometimes goes by the wayside.”

If recognition is any indication, Cronk’s efforts have certainly paid off. In 2012,  she was named a CNN Breakthrough Woman and a L’Oreal Woman of Worth, and the Sparkle Effect was a Classy Awards regional winner for Human Rights Charity of the Year. However, Cronk hopes for a day when this work isn’t seen as unusual.

“Ultimately, my biggest dream is that inclusion is as big a part of cheerleading as pom-pons are,” she says. “I hope that eventually people don’t need to get that fired up about it—and that it’s just the norm.”

-Jennifer Deinlein

GTM Sportswear Spotlight on: Happy Hooper

GTM Sportswear Spotlight on: Happy Hooper

Watching cheerleading genius at work in Birmingham is as simple as buying a movie ticket. If the showing you choose happens to fall just right, you’ll see Claude Cornelius “Happy” Hooper III—Happy Hooper for short—in a dark theater, hunkered down at a commercial film like The Hobbit, watching the screen but not entirely focused on what’s playing. Instead, he’s mentally projecting images of perfect formations and flawless pyramids rising, spinning and flowing onto the screen. It all plays into the bigger picture back at the gym with his award-winning squads at ACE Cheer Company.

“A lot of times in the movies, I will zone out and use the screen as a way to kind of see what I want—different transitions, formations, pyramid pictures and transitions [that are] supposed to happen,” he says.

In fact, if it weren’t for entertainment media—TV, movies, music—Hooper says the cheerleading-themed ticker tape that’s constantly running in his brain would never stop spooling. “I have to sleep with the TV on, and if I’m ever [alone] in a room, I have to have music playing. Otherwise, I’m always just thinking about cheerleading,” he says.

Though it’s hard for Hooper to narrow down his favorite films, he’d probably go with The Goonies or Steel Magnolias (a pick he attributes to “the Southern woman in me!”). It’s hard not to notice that both have ensemble casts: ragtag individuals banding together to overcome assorted problems. In the truest sense of the word, they’re teams—or, in ACE-speak, “tribes.”

So in-demand that he guest-starred on last year’s CMT reality show “Cheer” as the special guest consultant tasked with making over the Central Jersey All-Stars’ Worlds routine, Hooper is something of a legend in the cheerleading world. It’s not terribly hard to see why: watch that episode and you’ll see Happy—at first unassuming in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers—go into full-on savant mode, giving the squad rapid-fire direction for a new pyramid, making tiny gestures and miming transitions in triple-time. It’s like watching John Nash scribble equations on the library windows in A Beautiful Mind. The girls look at him wide-eyed. You can’t blame them: it’s hard to keep up with a visionary like Hooper.

Hooper’s company, ACE All-Stars, has 58 squads in five states and employs more than 100 people. It’s a mini-empire in cheer world, one that requires constant attention. When the company was smaller, Hooper prided himself on personally coaching every team. Now that the company is more spread out, it’s impossible for him to shepherd all of them in person—though he wishes otherwise. (It’s clear that Hooper’s inability to be 58 places at once pains this perfectionist who admits point blank, “I like to win.”) So Hooper goes for the next best thing: viewing their routines via YouTube videos that his coaches are required to upload daily. They get his notes within 24 hours.

Credit Hooper’s steadfast work ethic to his upbringing—Hooper’s parents both coached high school sports, and his mom even has a gym named after her. “I was in the baby rocker, and I would either be at cheer practice, softball practice, football practice or basketball practice. I grew up not knowing any other way to live other than working hard,” he says. “Playtime was sports, so to me, life and play go hand-in-hand with what I’m blessed and fortunate enough to call my profession.”

Hooper first realized cheerleading was his calling when he saw Alabama compete on-screen at UCA College Nationals, thanks to a rare glimpse of cable during a visit to his aunt and uncle back in the ’80s. “To this day, I remember their entire routine was to ‘Rockit’ by Herbie Hancock, and that was just the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life,” he says of the “a-ha” moment. “I knew I always loved cheerleading, but the competitive side, I’d not really seen.” There was no going back: Hooper was officially enamored with that slice of the sport.

He went on to cheer on scholarship at Sneed State Community College in Boaz, Alabama, for two years, then Columbus State in Georgia before coaching at University of Alabama and opening his first ACE gym in Alabama. He’s gone on to have incredibly high career highs, such as winning Coach of the Year and Worlds in 2011, and low professional lows, namely closing his Columbus, Georgia, gym four years ago. (Families from the area now drive three-plus hours to Birmingham or Atlanta in order to cheer at one of Hooper’s gyms.)

“Knowing when a gym isn’t making you money, when to call it a day, that’s very tough. As humans, we let our pride and ego get in the way,” he says. “You have to be a strong business person to know when to say when. You feel like you let everyone in the community down; you feel like you let down all the athletes. I took it very hard. But, financially, the company was much stronger after that.”

As for the state of cheer today, he has two major beefs: the idea of “cheerlebrities” (“After we got off the floor last year in Dallas, there were people pulling two of my athletes to take pictures with them… That’s not okay. This is a team sport; it is not about individuals”) and professionals’ desire to splinter off into disparate groups, which he says damages the industry as a whole rather than bettering the structure that already exists.

When it comes to giving advice to cheer professionals looking to replicate his success, he has dual keys to surviving and thriving: classes and communication. “Classes are going to make you money and afford you the luxury to hire who you need,” says Hooper. “[As far as] communication…even if you can’t answer an email right then, I stress to my staff and everyone in the industry to at least reply: ‘I have received your email, I don’t know the answer to this as of yet, but I will get back to you.’ And I try to put a little caveat in there, that if you haven’t heard back from me within a day, send me another email, call me.”

Though Hooper is the heart of the operation, he’s quick to share the success with those around him. “I get a lot of the—I don’t want to say ‘glory,’ but I don’t know a better word for it—but I would never be able to do what I do without everyone within the company,” says Hooper. “We have business directors, gym directors, and they all work their butt off for me and for the company. Our turnover is virtually none, which I find very warming to my heart that we must be doing something right. We retain staff, and we just get to add to our family.”

In the movie of Happy Hooper’s life, that sounds like a true happily-ever-after ending.

-Jamie Beckman

Open Letter from USASF To Its Members

Open Letter from USASF To Its Members

The purpose of this letter is to inform our members about some questions which have been raised recently relating to our structure and operating procedures. We will address those questions below, but more importantly, we would also like to share with you our view for the future.

When the USASF was founded in 2004 the All Star community was much different than it is today. There were no rules, no safety guidelines and no competition standards. There was also no true recognized national championship. If we had had a crystal ball at that time and had been able to see how All Star would develop in the following 10 years, there is no question many things would have been set up differently. However, since we did not have the luxury of what is now hindsight, it is important to understand the history of the organization in order to better appreciate why USASF made some of the decisions that are now being questioned.

We accept some of the questions that have been raised as a legitimate attempt to strengthen the organization, and we welcome that dialogue. Like all organizations, ours is not perfect, but we remain committed to doing what is right for the athletes, coaches and organizations that make up All Star Cheer and Dance.

History of USASF

USASF was founded in 2004 by Varsity and CHEERSPORT. At that time, both companies believed that there needed to be an organization that could bring stability to the sport and serve the athletes and coaches by standardizing rules, promoting safety and providing sanctioning standards.

In evaluating how to legally establish this new organization, Varsity and CHEERSPORT determined that a non-profit entity was the preferred structure. Therefore, USASF was chartered as a non-profit corporation in Tennessee as this was viewed to be a cost effective ($100 fee) and a quick and efficient way to start the organization. There was never any serious discussion about setting it up as a 501c corporation because this would have added unnecessary complexity and delay. A 501c status is used primarily for organizations that receive charitable donations, which the USASF does not. The corporate charter for USASF is posted on our website. To be clear, USASF is a separate legal entity from, files taxes independently of, and is not a corporation owned by Varsity. The corporate structure is controlled by the USASF Board of Directors and could be changed if the board decided it was in the best interest of the members.

As the USASF was being formed, it wrote its bylaws and appointed its first Board of Directors. Viewed today, it is obvious those bylaws could be improved upon. But remember, when written there was no reason for a formal set of complete statutes. The bylaws made all of the original board seats permanent in order to assure the organization stayed true to its mission. They also required a unanimous vote to change the bylaws. This stipulation is probably not ideal today, but frankly it was originally proposed by CHEERSPORT as protection to insure that it could not be voted out at some point in the future. JAMfest was also granted a permanent seat when they joined based on similar concerns. The bylaws have been amended several times over the years to broaden membership and representation to include coaches, gym owners and other event producers. The bylaws and amendments can be seen on our website.

After USASF was formed, Varsity provided an interest free line of credit to the USASF. At its peak, the loan balance was $1.8M. As of December 31, 2012, the balance on the loan was $565K.Varsity has allowed the USASF to have complete flexibility with our repayment schedule. The loan has been completely interest free to the USASF. This has been an incredible benefit to our organization and members, and it would have been impossible for the USASF to survive without it. Varsity has also continued to guarantee a substantial “rainy day” fund to insure USASF could withstand any type of unforeseen natural or financial disaster such as having to cancel Worlds one year. There has been no “co-mingling of funds” or any other impropriety. Just as any lending institution would do, Varsity secures the loan by retaining certain rights to the USASF trademark and intellectual property.

Moving Forward

As previously stated, the USASF and its board recognize that change is needed within the organization. The board met via conference call on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 and agreed to initiate a process to systematically manage this change. We want to move promptly but do not want to make the mistake, which has occurred in the past, of making significant changes without taking the time to solicit input from all members and stakeholders.

The issues we have identified to address are as follows:

  • Board Make Up: This will include, but will not be limited to, structure of the board, balance of representation and accountability within the USASF.
  • Bylaw Revisions: Revise the bylaws to accurately reflect the current environment and govern USASF properly.
  • Worlds: A comprehensive analysis of everything relating to Worlds including the pros and cons of utilizing Walt Disney World as a venue.
  • Location of USASF Office.

As this process unfolds, there may be other areas we examine based on feedback from our membership. We will utilize our existing committees, the NACCC and our USASF Regional Meetings to insure our entire membership is heard and considered as we address these issues.

One area the board felt needed to be improved now was that of financial reporting. Though we have nothing to hide, we believe a more detailed financial report would eliminate some of the inaccurate statements from our critics. As always, an independent certified public accounting firm will review the books and records. In addition, moving forward into 2013, a report by that public accounting firm will be included in a calendar year annual report that will be provided to our members and available to the public. This new annual report will also address a general update of the status of the USASF, as well as its future plans. In about three weeks we will post the 2012 financial report for the USASF on the website, along with more detailed information than has been presented in the past.

The board also agreed to move forward aggressively on several programs that we feel are critical to serving our athletes and coaches. We will consider and investigate options for an enhanced athlete membership program with an outstanding and affordable individual insurance option component and provide information in the upcoming weeks. Our professional membership program will also be improved, including reviewing the option for background checks for everyone working with our athletes. Also, we have already asked Les Stella to develop a more dynamic and comprehensive FAQ section on our website to provide a better way to field and answer the most common questions. These are types of initiatives that only USASF is in a position to accomplish and we are committed to getting them done expeditiously.

In closing, we would like to thank all of the hundreds, if not thousands of people who have volunteered their time and efforts to create and build the USASF. The organization would not have accomplished what we have without their dedication to make our sport better. We look forward to working with our entire community to insure we continue to build an even stronger and more effective USASF.

USASF Board of Directors

Morton Bergue
Mike Burgess, Vice President
Justin Carrier
Jim Chadwick, President
Brian Elza
Jeff Fowlkes
Tara Patton Harris
Happy Hooper, Secretary/Treasurer
Mack Hirshberg
Dan Kessler
Colleen Little
Catherine Morris
John Newby
Elaine Pascale
Kathy Penree
Steve Peterson
Kristen Rosario

Read the GrowCheer.org response to USASF’s open letter here.

GrowCheer.org Survey Results: Where The Industry Stands

GrowCheer.org Survey Results: Where The Industry Stands

In March, Cheer Industry Insights founder Jeff Watkins conducted a study of more than 500 cheer professionals and parents to see where they stand on the issues raised by the GrowCheer.org proposal. We conducted a Q&A with him to find out more about the collective response:

Looking at your research on the whole, what were some of the things that stood out most in your findings?

First of all, it became very clear how much most of the industry is craving a change right now. They’re seeking changes in the way USASF is currently being run, particularly with its reliance on Varsity and the perceived imbalance in the decision-making process. Most of the survey respondents are excited that there are people out there starting to take action to try to affect that change. I don’t know that they see the GrowCheer.org proposal as the immediate answer, but they are hopeful it will get the ball rolling. It has provided good grounds for conversation.

What were the most commonly perceived strengths and weaknesses of USASF?

Clearly people recognize USASF for what it has done in getting all-star cheer organized and under the same set of rules, and they acknowledge Varsity’s help along the way. They appreciate the efforts toward increasing the safety of the sport, and people also commented on how successful the Worlds competition has become. The weaknesses that clearly rose to the top were the financial reliance on Varsity and its unbalanced influence (as far as the number of people sitting on the board and stronghold they have on decisions). Those concerns accounted for 30 percent of all things noted as weaknesses, mostly by gym owners and coaches. Another weakness often mentioned was that USASF has outgrown the Worlds competition and has lost flexibility in terms of venue. The other main thing believed to be hindering the growth is that staffing at USASF is insufficient for the growth they’d like to see it take.

How would you describe the overall response to the GrowCheer.org proposal among your respondents?

Roughly 30 percent of survey-takers had some hesitation or maybe a bit of distrust that the seven companies are doing this without any financial motivation. Although it wasn’t the majority [of respondents], it’s enough that the GrowCheer.org companies should pay attention. They’ll have to convince the industry that their motives are the best interest of sport and not for their bottom line. The keyword is transparency and gaining their trust. It also needs to be noted that there was a clear group of respondents (about 15 percent) that had nothing good to say about the proposal—I’d call them Varsity loyalists. They were filled with doubt about the intentions and saw it as a desperation move by these companies to stir up an angry mob.

As far as the number of respondents who said they would be more likely to support the seven companies backing the proposal, this was polarizing. 42 percent of these people said 8 or higher, but the Varsity loyalists really brought that number down. If I’m [affiliated with] Varsity and I see that number, I’m freaking out because these companies are all in direct competition with Varsity. If 42 percent of gym owners are identifying as highly likely to go ahead and buy from these other companies, I better listen to what these guys have to say. That’s a considerable amount of potential loss.

Your research found that different criteria were important to different groups. Can you expand on that a bit?

Responses across the board were quite similar, but there were differentiators. The gym owners are the ones who want this change, who are demanding this independence. They want to be assured that all their hard work and investment and risk won’t be swept out from under them because of a dysfunctional governing body. There is a sense of betrayal from when they originally signed on to the USASF idea.

The feeling among parents is that they’re forking over all of this money for their kids to cheer and they’re not 100 percent convinced it’s going to an organization that is supporting it being a sport or anything more than a rec activity. As for the athletes, they were quite verbal and vocal. I think they’re pretty upset and pretty frustrated with last year’s rules changes. They felt like no one really cared what they thought and they’re mad at USASF.

Download the full survey results here: Reaction to GrowCheer proposal2.


Operation Dream Team

Operation Dream Team

The path to championship glory is paved with good intentions—and smart strategies. To help you discover the right road map for your program, we asked several gym owners for their secrets to success:

Be mindful of the trickle-up effect. Focusing too much on any one team can compromise long-term success, says Orson Sykes of Twist and Shout, which has 20 teams and three Oklahoma-based locations. Several years ago, Sykes performed a thorough assessment of the program and realized that more effort needed to be dedicated to nurturing rising talent. “We realized that we had good upper-level teams, but our younger teams were lacking a lot,” admits Sykes, whose teams have won more than 200 national titles to date. “Our mini and youth programs weren’t excelling as much as they should.”

Sykes reallocated his efforts and resources, and today the gym boasts a successful Youth Level 5 team. “That makes me more proud than anything because I know we’ll be able to compete at a high level for a long time,” he says.

Require a high level of commitment. At Arlington, TX-based Spirit of Texas, cheerleaders are required to attend all practices year-round regardless of illness or outside obligations (the only exception being school functions that result in a letter grade). Mandatory practices are held twice weekly for up to five hours, which co-owner Brett Allen Hansen says helps to elevate the level of excellence. “At Spirit of Texas, everyone is equally committed because everyone is equal—no one is so amazing that they get to miss practice,” shares Hansen, who co-owns the gym with Brad Vaughan. “Not having your entire team at every practice is mind-boggling to me.”

Rock Solid All-Stars in Pinellas Park, FL, takes a similar approach, but only during Nationals season from January until Worlds. Practices are held three times per week, with a “no-miss” policy firmly in place the week before any competition. “’Get better or get beaten’ is our motto,” says owner Carol Bariteau. “We work hard, because we know there is always another gym out there working harder.”

Make sure your staff is in the know. At Rock Solid All-Stars, Bariteau makes a point of requiring her employees to follow industry policies and rule changes closely. To do so, her staff members attend coaches’ meetings as often as possible and stay abreast of updates on the USASF website. “It’s all about the numbers game and knowing how to work the scoresheet,” says Bariteau, whose program has been to Worlds every year since 2007. “Not knowing the scoresheet has hurt our teams in the past, so that’s where your staff really needs to be on top of its game. Since there are so many grey areas, knowing how to get the wow effect while staying within the rules is a big deal.”

Find your “thing” and nurture it. Whether it’s jumps, daring stunts, or stand-out choreography, having a signature strength can be a surefire strategy for standing out from the rest of the competitive pack. To pinpoint your program’s secret weapon, Spirit of Texas’ Hansen recommends honing in on one particular strength during training and playing it up in routines. “Most groups in the top tier have something that they are the best in,” says Hansen. “Really push those areas where you’re great, but don’t forget to also nurture the weak areas so they don’t wash each other out.”

Zero in on stunting potential. In Tampa at Brandon All-Stars, president Peter Lezin places a strong emphasis on finding skilled stunters during the tryout process, saying they “pick [their teams] like a football team, all based on stunting positions.” Hansen does the same at Spirit of Texas, designating a certain amount of slots for bases, spotters, and flyers. He adds that they like to keep the same stunt groups together every year, so it’s important to choose wisely.

“When we’re putting together our team, we look at having 24 people on the team and how they fit into the six stunt groups,” says Hansen. “If you get a whole squad of girls that do double twists but all of them weigh 95 pounds, who will hold each other up? If all of your kids can’t build and do stunts, they won’t be competitive.”

Sykes of Twist & Shout agrees. “We use to take all the kids with fulls and doubles and put them all on one team, despite what they could do stunting-wise,” he shares. “Now, I have kids who can’t do a full to save their lives but they can base any stunt. Stunting has become so important to your overall score that it makes them extremely valuable on our teams.”

Encourage skill mastery. Though many programs have certain minimum requirements in order to make various teams, Bariteau says she’s mindful of assessing true skill level beyond the selection process. “Many athletes are able to hit a skill under pressure during tryouts when the adrenaline is flowing,” she says. “Then, at practice, you end up dealing with kids that don’t have the skill mastered and that poses a problem. We want to be able to effectively run our practices without having to do the skill over and over again when one person doesn’t hit.”

To avoid this issue, Bariteau performs random skill checks throughout the year, and says that she makes athletes aware that “they can be moved at any time to another team if they’re not up to par.”

Learn from the best. Though Twist & Shout is widely regarded as one of the top programs in the industry, Sykes says that he’s constantly seeking ways to become better. “We don’t ever get to a point where we feel like we’ve ‘arrived’ or are too big to learn,” says Sykes, a frequent conference attendee and speaker. “If you want to stay successful, you have to keep pushing yourself to learn more and more.” One way Sykes encourages his teams to learn is by exposing them to other successful squads; at competition, Twist & Shout teams are required to watch the others perform. Says Sykes, “We look at how top teams handle and perform in high-pressure situations—we try to learn from the good and the bad.”

Another effective method is practicing with other teams. Sykes often honors requests from other coaches who want to bring their teams to his gym to observe and train together, and Twist & Shout has its own “buddy team” that they work out and practice with every year at Worlds. “It’s beneficial for both of us,” says Sykes.

Stay united. At Spirit of Texas, Hansen makes a concerted effort to keep teams intact from tryouts through the end of the season. “The team that wins a Worlds bid or goes to Nationals is usually the same time that tried out—once we make selections, rarely do they change,” says Hansen, adding that his motivation is to develop the utmost team camaraderie and dynamics. “When a team has one heartbeat as the walk onto the floor, it’s noticeable and gives you an edge every time.”

Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning of ICE All-Stars

Owner’s Manual: Darlene Fanning of ICE All-Stars

In our “Owner’s Manual” column, we ask gym owners to take us “under the hood” and give us their secrets to what keeps their gyms running so smoothly. Find out how Darlene Fanning finds her balance by keeping high schools happy below:

Vital Stats 

Name:             Darlene Fanning

Gym:               ICE

Locations:      Aurora IL, Fort Wayne, IN and Mishawaka, IN

Founded:        1998

Size:                350 athletes; 18 teams (cheer and special needs)

The Dish

I really like to work with the high schools. I encourage [our athletes] to cheer for their high schools because that’s something that others outside our gym can see and say, “Wow, this child has these skills and that’s great.” Sometimes high school coaches are worried that we will try to pull them away from high school cheerleading, but that’s not my intent at all. It’s to make them better so that they can do something for their school. Both of my daughters who cheered all-star also cheered at school and we made it work. There were a few weekends where they missed games for competitions, but there were also times when they missed my practices to cheer at games.

Coaches working together is the key—as long as high school and all-star coaches are willing to do that, I think it can be a win-win situation for both. That’s what I really try to push for. I like to talk to the high school coaches and say, “Is there a camp coming up? Is there something you’ve got that I need to change my practices?” It’s all about letting your ego and everything go and saying, “Okay, what’s best for the kids?”

Sometimes high schools practice right after school, so we start our practices later so that they can get to the other one first. Obviously, as an all-star coach, I have to work around their schedule; however, high school coaches have to understand that they need to do the same in order to allow the kid to do both. Otherwise what can end up happening is that high schools lose their most talented kids—and that’s a shame. Many times when athletes are made to choose between competing and cheering at games, those more talented kids will choose all-star. They understand that’s where they’re challenged cheer-wise. A lot of high schools don’t compete, so [that style of cheer] is more just supporting the team and your school.

As far as recruiting, you don’t want to get a bad reputation as a gym owner who steals athletes or takes them away from high school programs. That’s not good for the kids or for either program. Even when high school cheerleaders are training in my gym and taking classes, no coach is allowed to approach them. Only when a kid comes to us and says, “I think I’m not going to do high school cheerleading next year, I’m going to do all-star,” will we talk to them. High school coaches need to know that their athletes can go to ICE for training and not have to worry about the kids being recruited.

I haven’t had a problem with high school coaches because of that rule. I’m a smart enough business owner to know that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to recruit a few of those kids and making the high school coach mad. That’s why we’re so diligent about that, and that’s how we strike a happy balance.

BREAKING NEWS: Seven Industry Companies Unite to Urge and Facilitate USASF Independence

BREAKING NEWS: Seven Industry Companies Unite to Urge and Facilitate USASF Independence

CheerProfessional has learned that seven industry companies (Cheer Zone, GK Elite, GTM Sportswear, Motionwear, Nfinity, Rebel Athletic and Team Cheer) have united in an effort to facilitate the USASF’s independence from Varsity Brands. Their plan includes assuming the USASF’s loan from Varsity, revising the Board of Directors and moving the USASF office and employees to a neutral location. Read their full proposal and react in the comments section:


Proposal to the United States All Star Federation

GrowCheer.ORG is a group of unrelated industry companies with a singular purpose to grow the sport of cheerleading.

As such, we believe that the first (and most important) step in fostering future growth in our sport is a FREE and INDEPENDENT United States All Star Federation (“USASF”).

How are we going to accomplish this?

Central to our plan is to replace the current loan(s) that the USASF has with Varsity Spirit Corporation and/or affiliated companies (“Varsity”).

It is understood that the reason Varsity controls a majority of the seats on the USASF board and why Varsity owns the trademark of the USASF is to secure repayment of these loans.   We firmly believe that in order to have a unified industry, no single organization should be unduly influenced by and/or controlled by another.

We propose to assume the loan with essentially the same financial terms that Varsity has given to the USASF.  We are prepared to do this immediately after the 2013 USASF Worlds competition.

Other key provisions relating to our plan are as follows:

1)   Require an immediate external audit of the USASF financials by an independent accounting firm that we mutually agree on.  We will bear the cost of this audit.

  1. This firm would determine the amount that remains outstanding to Varsity.
  2. The firm would examine the relationship between the USASF and the IASF and confirm that all monies paid to the USASF by American gyms would be used for the support of American programming, not international programming.
  3. The firm would examine the relationship between the USASF and the host site to make sure only the USASF received benefit from the relationship.

2)   All USASF property held in lien as security for outstanding loans with Varsity, including but not exclusively intellectual property (i.e., trademarks), would be released to the USASF.

3)   Immediate rewriting of the Articles of Incorporation, By Laws, and Operating Agreement to abolish all permanent Board of Directors seats and create a provision for an organized election to be conducted as soon as practical.  The new Board of Directors would be composed of equal representation among all segments of our industry – gym owners/coaches, event producers and industry vendors.

4)   Future production of USASF World competitions would be granted to a qualified event producer after an open bidding process administered by the Board of Directors.

5)   The office and employees of the USASF would be moved to a neutral location in Memphis.  If necessary, we would subsidize payment for the office space until it could be supported by the cash flow of the USASF.

6)   After the first year, or as soon as practical, the Board of Directors would interview and select a professional management company to assume the day-to-day operations of the USASF.

7)   The USASF would be reorganized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is recognized by the IRS as such.

We believe very much in this industry and recognize Varsity for its past foresight and support, but we have come to a point where we can no longer afford to see our governing body indebted to and controlled by a profit motivated company with a clear conflict of interest.  In a time when so many are calling for the industry to break apart into separate factions, we feel that the best solution is to step in and provide a practical way for there to be just one, FREE and INDEPENDENT governing body.  And we believe that we have proposed a workable solution to this matter.

Your acceptance of the above terms is expected by March 1, 2013 to GrowCheer@gmail.com so that we can make provisions for a seamless transition.



Cheer Zone ™

GK Elite Sportswear, L.P.

GTM Sportswear, Inc.

Motionwear, LLC

Nfinity Athletic LLC

Rebel Athletic ™

Team Cheer™


United States All-Star Federation, USASF, ISAF, USASF Worlds, Varsity are all Registered trademarks of the Varsity Spirit Corporation, Memphis, TN.


State of the Union, Part 2

State of the Union, Part 2

CheerProfessional tapped four of the industry’s cheer leaders for a spirited panel discussion on our industry and its future. Following part one, read part two of our interview:

Safety is obviously a hot-button topic in the industry. What do you think will be the impact of the American Academy of Pediatrics report and all of the media attention on safety?

Dan Kessler of The Jam Brands

Kessler: Safety and kids’ health is more important than it’s ever been. Five years ago, we never talked about concussions in football—the awareness is much higher. And, as the sport of cheerleading grows, the more kids doing it, the more possibility for injury. Unfortunately, the Pediatrics report include all types of “cheer”—from rec and school to all-star cheer—so until we can define a clear separation between these types of cheer, there will always be that comparison. Going forward, our gym owners have to be [focused on] safety first, using proper progression and keeping kids to the proper level. Event producers rely on the coaches and owners to only put skills on the floor that the athletes can safely execute. The more we make our coaches smarter and more aware of safety issues, the better our industry will be.

Puckett: For the sport’s longevity, I think we have to keep a balance of good safety and good coaching. Some of the current [rule] changes were very necessary to keep the sport safe. In all honesty, if we push the limit too far and increase catastrophic injuries, it will destroy the sport. I’d like to see credentialing taken a step further and made mandatory to more levels.

John Newby, Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Varsity All-Star

Newby: [There are] a lot of gyms doing it the right way—take those examples and have certified tumbling instructors. Education and training progressions and proper technique are paramount to the long-term success of our industry. That’s one of the areas of focus in the near future that we need to ramp up and continue to make the sport safer. The more we talk about ways to increase safety measures, the better off the sport will be in all aspects and disciplines.

There’s a lot of talk about cheerleading becoming a sport and even entering the Olympics. What are your predictions on that front?

Kessler: All-star gym owners need to be educated on the pros or advantages to being an Olympic sport and how it will help their business or create more cheerleaders. Will it change what they do in their four walls? A lot of these questions are not being asked of our all-star market, but are being told to our all-star market. The all-star market should demand more input into the growth of cheerleading, both nationally and internationally. Until we have these answers, there is no way to predict if this would be a good or bad thing for our industry.

Karlette Fettig, Indiana Elite All-Stars

Fettig: I think it’s a long way off. More countries are getting involved, but I don’t know that they’re at the level of competitiveness that the United States is. To me, there is a lot of work to be done before it’s an interesting enough sport to be attractive to the Olympics. They need to know that the U.S. won’t go out there and dominate every time.

Newby: I think it is an exciting thought, but probably years away from being seriously considered. International development of the sport is crucial and will make a difference of how quickly, if ever, this sport will be considered for Olympic competition. Time will tell.

How can our industry thrive in the future?

Pam Puckett, The Cheer Center

Pam Puckett, The Cheer Center

Puckett: Coaches are concerned that our routines are so jam-packed that [the sport is] becoming totally skill-based—taking the fun and flash out of routines. I think we might take a turn back toward adding the flair, either by adding time to the routine or cutting back the skills. That will be a tough transition, but it’s possible. Also, I think the types of events will keep evolving with new, fresh ideas like Jam LIVE! and Varsity’s Gameday Championship. It’s important to keep it exciting for kids and parents and keep people wanting more.

Fettig: Gyms are going to need to figure out how to make their programs attractive to more children so they can stay alive. I believe in 10 years, the industry will look different on the gym side. Larger gyms have grown over the last several years because of other small gyms closing. It’s become difficult for gyms to start up and be competitive against very large gyms of 500-600 kids. There will be a big dichotomy between a 700-kid program and 150-kid program. In 10 years, you’ll see a big spread between large and small gyms and not a lot of in-between if people don’t start trying to figure out how to get more kids in their door each and every year. That means focusing on younger, less skilled kids and getting them interested in the sport. I get that Level 4 and 5 is exciting to coach and watch, but you have to get more kids in at Level 1 and Prep in order to keep the sport going.

Kessler: All Star Prep. These divisions are about embracing the simplicity and the fun that got our sport growing to begin with. It’s not the you-have-to-get-your-back-tuck-NOW mentality—it’s more about making it fun, making it exciting and making the kids love what they do.  It offers the same athletic appeal but with less commitment and the same performance aspect.  That’s kind of what all-stars was at the beginning in the purest sense.

Our industry and the future of all-star cheerleading and dance can thrive if it is a positively regulated sport that is safe, exciting, accessible and competitive for the kids that participate. The kids have to have FUN! The environment must be safe, and the whole purpose of creating an all-star team of any type is to be competitive. In addition, the sport has to be both affordable and wholesome so as to assist parents in raising strong, healthy kids. We have to offer the same (or better) benefits than any other sport out there so that kids and their parents make all-star cheer and dance their sport choice.

Suit of Armor: Warding Off Lawsuits

Suit of Armor: Warding Off Lawsuits

Though it’s one of the most successful and well-known gyms in the nation, Freehold, NJ-based World Cup All-Stars hasn’t been immune to facing a lawsuit. To date, the program has faced two.

“You never know who is going to come back and sue you,” says co-owner Joelle Antico. “You have to run your gym like a business; this isn’t an extracurricular activity. If owners don’t have insurance, anyone can come after us personally.”

World Cup is just one of many programs facing a growing reality: cheer professionals are at risk for a wide range of lawsuits—ranging from copyright to injuries to harassment. Modern gym owners must be well-equipped to face whatever might be hurled their way, and taking the necessary measures for lawsuit prevention is key.

Cover your bases. 

It may seem obvious, but the most effective way of warding off lawsuits is to make sure all aspects of your business are up-to-date, competent and compliant. “As long as you keep your insurance current, keep your floor safe and assure that your staff is qualified and certified, that’s a big first step,” says World Cup co-owner Elaine Pascale, who has 19 years of experience.

Drawing up clear policies can also ensure that there is no gray area up for legal interpretation. National Cheer Safety Foundation CEO Kim Archie says a gym owner’s top priority should be establishing clear, written policies that cover all the bases. “Having the right procedures that cover things across the board—from bullying to abuse to sexual harassment to injuries—is crucial,” advises Kim Archie, CEO and founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation.

Both Pascal and Archie agree—gym owners must document everything. Looking back, Pascal says she wishes that she’d been stricter about paperwork from the start. “We had kids coming in from the outside in lower-level classes, where we didn’t know the parents as well. We weren’t as vigilant with forms and documents and making sure everything was checked off,” says Pascal. “[It’s important to] take care of everything.”

Insure your future.

“As a fast-growing segment of the industry, cheer gym facilities have their own unique needs apart from squads and competitions,” explains Lorena Hatfield of K&K Insurance, one of the leaders in the sports insurance field. “Facility owners may need various types of insurance such as property, contents, workers’ compensation, auto and crime coverage.”

According to Hatfield, coverage that includes coaches, teachers, the gym owner and the gym itself is best. She suggests choosing an insurance policy that offers commercial general liability, which typically protects against liability claims for bodily injury and property damage. A number of companies cater directly to cheer gyms, such as K and K, Markel Insurance Company and Sadler Sports (which Archie calls one of the “best in the business”).

Though most companies do offer policies at various limits and price points, Hatfield says it can be risky to skimp. “Purchasing coverage on price alone can be dangerous, as there are often differences in what is offered between providers,” she shares. “It’s important to know what is excluded, as well as what is covered, before purchasing insurance.”

It’s also key to work with your provider on tailoring your policy to your program’s specific needs. “Personal and advertising injury, professional liability and medical payments for participants may also be part of an insurance program tailored for cheer squads,” adds Hatfield.

Also important is clarifying any exclusions that may be in the fine print. “In policies, there can be public exclusions, which can include negligence clauses that strip the gym of coverage. You have to get the most specific, specialized coverage,” says Tom Gowan, a Philadelphia-based law partner who focuses on personal injury cases.

Face reality.

If an incident does occur, address it immediately. “Follow up, check in, document it,” Pascale instructs. “Find out how the child is doing that night. It shows sensitivity. We don’t like seeing any one getting hurt. We really do care.”

-Nicholas McCarvel

De-Stress R/x

De-Stress R/x

Take two deep breaths and call us in the morning? Not quite that simple—but we’ve unearthed a few smart ideas on how to stamp out stress.

Between the constant pressures of coaching, competing and running a business, it’s no secret that being a cheer professional can be a highly stressful endeavor. “Everybody who has ever owned a gym understands that it’s pretty much 24/7,” says Troy Hedgren, co-owner of Laguna Hills, CA-based Pacific Coast Magic. “Especially with a gym our size, with four locations and more than 500 athletes, the days for us are very long.”

Whether you thrive in go-go-go mode or are feeling the burn of burnout, whether your gym is miniscule or massive, it’s imperative to cope properly and decompress—even if you have to “schedule” time to do it. To find out how to turn a breaking point into a turning point, we turned to several busy cheer professionals and expert Zohar Adner for their hard-earned advice on achieving balance.

Schedule breaks.
As a coach and gym owner, your days start early and often don’t end until midnight—and many feel that there is still not enough time in the day. Undoubtedly, creating work-life balance can be tough with such an all-consuming lifestyle, but living without it is ultimately unsustainable.

“Coaches and gym owners need to schedule breaks and time to breathe,” says Zohar Adner, author of The Gift of Stress. “You can’t just run from one activity to the next to the next. You would never treat an athlete like that; you wouldn’t even do that to your car. If it’s not something you would ask of anyone else, it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re asking of yourself.”

Hedgren finds his rare Zen by taking time to connect with nature and the outdoors in the midst of his jam-packed day. He often spends mornings returning emails and making calls, then heads to the beach for an hour or two before heading to the gym. “You have to have that one little release,” he confides.

If slowing down doesn’t seem like an option, consider the benefits. Research has shown that 90 minutes “is the optimal length of time for a person to concentrate on something—more than that, and you start to get decreased effectiveness,” Adner cautions. “Taking a break lets your brain settle down and gives your body a chance to rest.”

Also, “breaks” don’t have to mean a major time commitment—Adner recommends starting with five minutes a day and working your way up to an hour in the morning, an hour in the evening and (ideally) an hour mid-day. “We used to take a lunch hour,” says Adner. “People were happier and healthier.”

Build a support system.
Creating a supportive community is key to reducing stress, even if you feel like no one understands your unique stressors. “By isolating yourself, you’re only putting more pressure on yourself,” says Adner. Afraid to ask for help? Think of how great it feels when you’re able to help out a friend. “[Give] other people the opportunity to be that person for you,” adds Adner.

The approach works for Hedgren and co-owner Kellie Elliott, who say they lean on each other, their spouses and network of coaches and athletes quite often. “Everybody takes a part in not only working for me, but helping me out as a parent,” says Elliott. “I don’t think I could do what I do if I didn’t have that support system—it’s definitely teamwork. You just have to make sure to get good people that you trust in those positions to make you successful.”

Be prepared.
According to Adner, 90 percent of stress is recurring. “You can pretty much predict the things that are going to come up,” he says. At USA Wildcats in Naugatuck, CT, they deal with all of the typical stressors—athletes getting injured, people running late to competition and other incidents that can cause “coaches [to run] around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to come up with a backup plan,” says coach Amanda Daniels.

Preparing in advance—much like you would for a competition—ensures that you won’t get taken by surprise. “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel each time,” Adner advises. “Learn from your past experiences.” Having a disaster checklist can keep everyone calm during a crisis, and having set practices in place will ward off confusion and chaos.

“The less thinking you have to do in those moments, the better off you will be,” says Adner. “Go to the plan, as opposed to having to figure it out on the spot.”

-Stephanie Carbone