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The Cheerlebrity Phenomenon, Part 3

Under Pressure

Speaking of Justin Bieber, in many cases, social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram have made (or at least aided) the careers of certain cheerlebrities. Gardner has more than 15,000 Twitter followers and Rule more than 16,000, while Nowlin has no less than three fake impersonators. But, Sykes emphasizes, with great social power comes great responsibility. Not only will fans be watching a cheerlebrity’s performance for any hint of a mistake, but the cheer public will be monitoring every tweet and every post for lapses in judgment or perceived flaws in character.

“You have to make sure that they understand that responsibility comes with their platform, meaning if we have a bad practice, they can’t go on Twitter and say, ‘I hate my coach,’ or ‘I hate cheer.’ You are a role model now,” says Sykes. “Even though they’re your feelings and you have a right to your own feelings, you have a responsibility now. The fleas come with the dogs.”

Gardner speaks cautiously yet diplomatically about social media: “Social media has been a huge part of becoming recognized in the cheer world, and I am thankful for its impact; however, I also see social media used as a weapon in our industry to tear down athletes, so to me it is a double-edged sword.”

Just cruising through Twitter reveals a not-so-nice underbelly of cheerleading fandom: One tweet from a user directed at Maddie read, “Maddie Gardner having a tv show…. #overrated #sorrynotsorry

Add that increased visibility to intense competition, and the mix could be detrimental if coaches don’t get involved, Pascale says.

“Considering how difficult the scoresheet is right now in making these kids do so much within two and a half minutes, I think good coaches try to alleviate that pressure by making these kids have more fun,” Pascale says. “If these cheerlebrities don’t succeed, the next morning, there is no fun for them. It’s agony. And I don’t think it’s fair. Does it make them tougher? I’m sure.”

Gardner herself seems to have lost some love for the “cheerlebrity” concept.

“Recently I have noticed many athletes trying to become ‘cheerlebrities’ and I feel as though it has become negative,” she said. “From my own experience, I discourage anyone from trying to become a cheerlebrity. I do not consider myself to even be one, and I do not think it is important to have a title. I became recognized in the sport because I loved what I did and I put all my heart and effort into it. I was not trying to become famous in the cheer world; I was just doing what I loved to do and was recognized because I expressed my true passion for cheerleading.”

Sykes, however, says he only sees the cheerlebrity phenomenon escalating. “I think it’s going to get bigger, because what I’ve seen in the past two or three years, it’s just like mainstream sports,” he says. “People who sell shoes, even events, they’re promoting these kids now because they know these kids have a following. It’s crazy. I can say something over Twitter, and when Whitney retweets it, I get 15 new followers within five minutes.”

Sarah Gardner, Maddie’s mother, sees both the positives and negatives inherent in cheerlebrity. “I don’t think there are any fantastic benefits to Maddie being in the spotlight, but she has met amazing people—some of whom will be instrumental in her future and some who will be lifelong friends,” Gardner shares. “She has learned to handle public criticism with grace and, as a result, become very ‘thick-skinned,’ and she’s developed a strong work ethic. In retrospect, there are some perks but not what one might imagine them to be.”

Jamie Beckman


The Cheerlebrity Phenomenon

The Cheerlebrity Phenomenon

A pro cheerlebrity is hard to miss. She’s usually female, a flyer, slicing through the air during a basket toss—makeup bright, smile broad. Perhaps she’s signing autographs before competition or wowing judges on the floor with a superior tumbling pass. Maybe she has an agent in hopes of getting recruited by a college and scoring a scholarship. She might have even signed an exclusive contract with a magazine or landed a deal to sell a specific brand of shoes. Or perhaps you’ll spot her sitting behind the judges’ table at Varsity’s new wave of “Cheerlebrity” competitions.

Click. Flash. Pose with beaming young fans. Sign a program. Smile. Wave. Repeat.

This level of pomp and circumstance isn’t unlike the kind associated with A-list stars with Oscars under their belt, but these cheerlebrities are teenagers who have harnessed social media and caught the public eye, turning their specific set of skills into a brand and launching themselves to superstardom within cheerleading circles.

As “ambassadors” of the sport, some cheerlebrities are tapped to train with and meet-and-greet other cheerleaders in hopes that some of their star quality will rub off on them. Having cheerlebrities teach tumbling/stunting/stretching clinics for young all-star cheerleaders is especially popular. Naturally, the stars sign autographs and mug for pictures afterward. It’s all part of the new normal—the growing culture of cheerlebrity.

Pros and Cons

Is this emphasis on the individual rather than the team as a whole a good thing for the sport? It depends on whom you talk to.

“I look at [the growth of cheerlebrities] as a tremendous compliment to our sport,” says Courtney Smith-Pope of Cheer Extreme Allstars, who coached cheerlebrity Maddie Gardner. “Basketball has Michael Jordan. Swimming has Michael Phelps. Gymnastics has Gabby Douglas. This is the natural evolution of our sport—there are going to be superstars.”

However, cheerleading is inherently a team sport—after all, elaborate stunts and formations don’t really work if only one person is performing them—so having the spotlight rest on a select few individuals can make for potentially awkward situations.

World Cup All-Stars CEO Elaine Pascale, who coaches cheerlebrity Kelsey Rule, says she’s concerned not only that there is no formal “selection” process for creating a cheerlebrity (potentially excluding more deserving cheerleaders), but also that the pressure to perform could negatively affect a cheerlebrity’s mental game.

“I just worry that if this is the trend, then we’re looking at these athletes more on a professional level than an amateur level, where we’re putting a lot of pressure on them,” says Pascale. “We’re making them have to live up to a title that at 15, 16 or 17 years old, I’m not sure that they’re developed enough to not have it filter over to the competition floor.”

Pascale is quick to clarify, however, that she’s not against recognizing outstanding individuals—she just wishes awards were doled out fairly.

“In any sport we have trophy winners, but I think there’s a forum to congratulate these specific athletes,” she says. “At World Cup, we gather up parents and award a trophy to the best athlete of that particular performance. Those kids go home with that trophy and feel good about themselves, so they’re still connected to that sense of team.”

But is heaping praise and adulation on a supremely talented individual simply the way things go, whether you’re giving a presentation in a boardroom or tumbling on a gym floor? Danica and Jay Noah of 2×2 Productions, which creates personalized DVDs for cheerleaders, picked noted cheerlebrities Maddie Gardner and Maison Baker to introduce their videos, citing the pair’s inner and outer “grace.” But the Noahs do acknowledge a negative response to the cheerlebrity trend.

“There already seems to be a backlash towards this,” they said in an email. “We do think there will always be hose individuals that stand out in a crowd. It’s just human nature. You could pick any classroom, and you will have certain kids that are leaders, planners, fun ones, pretty or handsome athletes, etc. I think that is how it works here—there will always be those that others will want to emulate, whether for an amazing skill or just the way they look and talk.”

——->Part 2: The Team Effort

10 Minutes With: Eric Little

10 Minutes With: Eric Little

As our industry evolves and shifts, Eric Little stays right in step. With more than 750 national titles and 62 Worlds medals under his belt, Eric Little has cemented himself as one of the industry’s premier choreographers—earning him the USASF’s first-ever “Choreographer of the Year” honor in 2011. Along with all-star programs, Little works with an array of collegiate, NFL and NBA cheer and dance teams, a natural progression for this one-time Riverside Community College and Long Beach State University cheerleader. He was also the choreographer for Bring It On: All or Nothing—an accomplishment that would make any “cheer-tator” envious.

True to form, this busy choreographer is always on the road working, traveling “non-stop” from June until February, but we managed to pin the always outspoken Little down for a one-on-one Q&A:

CP: Our industry is in a state of transition. How has your own job changed in the last five years?

Little: The trend is definitely toward less dance. Instead of routines including 10 to 12 eight-counts of dance, only four or five are included. With that [development], I have had to adjust my rates from $2,000 to $1,000.

CP: How has all-star cheerleading in general evolved in your view?

Little: As far as evolution in teams goes, I think the kids have gotten incredibly good. But the downfall lies with the changing of some rules—thereby hindering talent and suppressing athleticism. I understand some of the restrictions, but I don’t agree with a lot of them. My hope is that the creativity and entertainment value will still hold high. To let go of the artistry would severely hurt this industry.

CP: Some people think that the trend toward making things more uniform is part of the push toward Olympic involvement. What are your thoughts on that?

Little: [All-star cheerleading] is not the format for the Olympics. Leave it alone! It is a subjective event.

CP: What drives or inspires the latest trends? Where do your ideas come from?

Little: I think what drives trends is what the most creative people in the industry do, like the Top Guns, the Cheer Athletics and gyms that people look up to. Whatever new or inventive things they do stunt- or transition-wise, people take notice and try to emulate what they are putting out there. As far as what I do in the dance area, I just do my best to keep the entertainment value and the interpretation of music alive.

CP: What do you wish gym owners and coaches would do when bringing in an outside choreographer?

Little: I think that choreographers and owners/coaches need to communicate before bringing in extra help. With my clients, we always make sure everything works out correctly, whether it be travel, accommodations or anything needed while I am there working for them. It’s all about understanding everyone’s needs.

The only critique I would bring up is that coaches sometimes need to stand back and not interrupt the creative process.

CP: What’s the most important piece of advice you can give cheer professionals?

Little: Go with your gut—go with the formula you’ve always known. Don’t compromise the integrity of creativity or entertainment.

America’s Best Athlete Does Her Best to Help Newtown Families

America’s Best Athlete Does Her Best to Help Newtown Families

As the industry—and our nation—tries to get back in the holiday spirit after last week’s tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., a cheerleader named Janie Pascoe is doing her best to restore hope. After being named Athlete of the Year at America’s Best National Championships in Kansas City last weekend, Janie requested to donate her $500 scholarship prize to the Newtown Memorial Fund for the victims’ families rather than using it toward her Indiana University education.

“It is an honor to receive this award, but I feel the money would be better used in the hands of the New Town Memorial Fund rather than mine and maybe this will encourage others to help as well,” said Janie in a statement.

Though it’s an unconventional approach, America’s Best Championships and The JAM Brands were more than happy to oblige Janie’s selfless wishes. “I couldn’t help but tear up at how amazing this young athlete truly is,” says Chad Lemon of The JAM Brands. “It is so refreshing to know that there are great, positive role models out there and Janie fits that bill to a tee. I think Janie’s small act of kindness shows that she truly is ‘America’s Best’ Athlete of the Year.”

Cheers to Janie for showing what the true holiday spirit is all about.


C’mon, Get Happy: Boost Your Happiness Quotient

C’mon, Get Happy: Boost Your Happiness Quotient

Much like a double full or a scorpion, happiness is a learned skill—and good things come to those who practice. If you’re looking to lead a happier life, it’s crucial to learn the right skills and put them into practice. So how do you get from point A to point Be-happy? Here are a few clues.

Commit acts of kindness. Sometimes the fastest way to personal happiness is to make others happy—whether that means planning a philanthropic event, volunteering, or banding together to help another gym in need (like many did earlier this year when a tornado destroyed Cheer Fusion in Fredericksburg, VA).

Contributing positively to others’ well-being can also boost your sense of purposefulness. “I believe wholeheartedly that happiness is tied to purpose,” says motivational speaker and success coach Shawn Anderson. When individuals have a passionate purpose that inspires and drives them, happiness and fulfillment often follow hand-in-hand. At Gym Kix in Copperas Cove, TX, owner Stephanie Beveridge spearheads charity efforts for deployed soldiers and the local Hope Pregnancy Center. “[Our work] allows us to realize that there are other people out there struggling and how a little time, effort, and money on our part can be a great blessing,” she says.

Be optimistic. “Happiness is choice,” says Randy Taran, founder of the non-profit Project Happiness. “We cannot control the situations we’re in, but we can control our attitude towards them.” Beveridge agrees, saying, “We cannot equate our happiness with only the ‘good times’ or we’ll all be searching forever for happiness.”

When something doesn’t go your way, look for the opportunity within the adversity. (Taran calls this your “advertunity.”) Staying optimistic is key during difficult times, since focusing on an emotion tends to attract more of the same. The more you can focus on happiness and laughter, the more chances you’ll attract those into your life.

Know your happiness triggers. Do you know what makes your heart smile? Taran calls these things your “happiness triggers.” Spending time on the things you love is crucial for happiness—and the better you know yourself, the easier it will be to lead a more satisfying life. For Morton Bergue of CheerGyms.com, it’s taking time to indulge in a spa day, while for Beveridge of Gym Kix, happy times are most often spent relaxing with family.

If you’re still scratching your head as to your  own happiness triggers, Taran suggests thinking of happy times and analyzing what made those times special. By pinpointing the situations that elicit happiness, you can then incorporate those triggers into your daily life.

Count your blessings. Expressing gratitude can open your eyes to all that you have and all that you’ve accomplished. “There are a hundred blessings we each have that we tend to ignore, only to wonder instead why we don’t have something else,” points out Anderson. By being grateful for even the smallest things, you’re more apt to be content and appreciative for what you’ve got. For those struggling with anger or dealing with distressing emotions, try keeping a gratitude journal—or simply make a list of 100 things you’re thankful for and watch the anger melt away as the list gets bigger.

Follow your heart. A fulfilled heart is a happy heart. When you’re doing what you love, happiness is easier to find. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start chasing happiness. Making one small change today can change your whole life.

Happy days are here again.


Candid Coach: Trisha Hart of All-Star Legacy

Candid Coach: Trisha Hart of All-Star Legacy

Meet Trisha Hart, now in her 10th year as co-owner of All-Star Legacy (a decorated cheer gym with three locations in Virginia and West Virginia), coach for the program’s Mini Level One and Youth Level Two teams, and cheer consultant/choreographer. We snagged this busy cheer professional for a candid Q&A—read what she had to say below:

CP: What is one thing you wish you’d known when starting out?

Trisha: I would have liked to find more balance from the beginning. In this industry, you work from the minute you wake up until the minute you go to bed, and at first, I sacrificed a lot of my personal friendships and family relationships to bring the gym great success. I also invested a lot of emotion into the clients and kids, which I wouldn’t take back, but in retrospect, I wish someone had told me not to take it so personally when kids would leave and go to a different gym.

CP: You spend a lot of time training coaches from other programs. What’s one thing you think coaches could do differently as a whole?

Trisha: After seeing Worlds on ESPN or certain YouTube videos, coaches often have expectations that their kids will be able to do those things, but teaching them how to get there is something we’re lacking. A good test-taker might be able to get credentialed very high, but at the end of the day, hands-on training and being able to communicate with different athletes is bigger than anything else. Going to a gym or practicing 3-10 hours a week and having them repeat bad habits won’t get progress. Coaches need to be more hands-on, and I blame that on lack of training that we’re offering as an industry.

Q: Name something you wouldn’t do again as a coach.

Trisha: Relying on parent volunteers to be the communication of the business. We’ve worked with a lot of parents to get messages to the masses—each team has one or two parent representatives. I’ve learned that giving them the reins can sometimes bite you in the butt, as your words can be misconstrued. It’s great to have parent volunteers, but not necessarily as a main line of information.

CP: Talk about trends you’re seeing in choreography.

Trisha: Right now, it’s too skill-based. Look at any event producer’s scorecard—in order to get a quantity score, you end up jam-packing two minutes and thirty seconds with so many skills that you lose all the flashy fun. Showmanship and entertainment value are what competitive cheerleading was originally built for, but we’re starting to get away from them. We have to do so much in a routine that we’re counting the number of elements and skills versus appreciating the creativity of what we do. In maximizing the scoresheet, we lose the creative overall effect and appeal. I’d love to see it all be one big package again, but the only way that will happen is by not expecting so much.

CP: How would you sum up your coaching approach?

Trisha: Passionate and energetic about our industry and coaching, with high expectations for all athletes’ growth and development—no matter what age or ability level.

It’s a Myth-stery: The Biggest Insurance Myths Debunked

It’s a Myth-stery: The Biggest Insurance Myths Debunked

If your head starts to swim in legal jargon when considering the various types of insurance for your cheer gym, you’re not alone. “About 90 percent of gym owners don’t have a grasp on the types of insurance they need to carry, and they’re not always attuned to what can happen,” says Ray Snyder of Snyder Insurance Services, which specializes in insuring cheer, gymnastics, and other amateur sports gyms. “In gymnastics, no one in their right mind goes without cover, but cheer people often don’t renew [their policies] because of economics.”

Yet insurance is an investment most cheer gym owners can’t afford not to make. Just like locking the front door and screening your employees properly, knowing how to properly protect your business liability-wise is of utmost importance—otherwise, you could be leaving your program vulnerable to devastating financial loss. See if you subscribe to any of these common insurance myths and learn the realities below:

MYTH #1: Forming a corporation protects me from liability if my business is sued.

The Truth: Incorporating may protect your personal assets (such as your home and personal finances), but it may not provide absolute protection. In some circumstances (such as fraud or co-mingling of personal and business funds), a judge may permit “piercing of the corporate veil” and hold officers of corporations personally responsible—making your house, savings, and other assets susceptible. This exception is seen more commonly in smaller privately held businesses than publicly traded corporations, making it a very real concern for small businesses.

According to Sandra Mihaloff of Markel, consulting a lawyer can help you pinpoint which type of corporation can provide the best protection for your specific needs. “Only your business attorney can advise you on the entity that suits your business best, and whichever type you choose will be indicated on the declarations page of your policy,” says Mihaloff.

MYTH #2: My landlord has insurance, so I’m covered.

The Truth: According to Snyder, most landlords will carry “lessor’s risk only insurance,” which covers liability and property coverage for building owners only. On top of that, “in most cases, the landlord would like you to cover their liability as an additional insured on your own general liability policy; some companies may charge an additional cost for this purpose,” advises Mihaloff.

To cover your own business bases, Snyder recommends that cheer gym owners obtain a dual-purpose liability policy, which provides an umbrella of both no-fault and at-fault coverage.

MYTH #3: Nobody would sue me.


The Truth: Why? Because you’re so nice? Because you run your business so safely that nothing can go wrong? Or because you’re not rich? Think again—cheer gyms are often sued for everything from injuries to sexual abuse allegations to discrimination, and no cheer professional is exempt from the possibility. “As a gym owner, to think you will never get sued is a myth,” says Mihaloff. “There have been cases where best friends sued  each other over an accident or incident.”

Snyder agrees, adding that “in times of recession, claims go through the roof on an alleged basis.” According to Snyder, going uninsured and taking that risk can be a costly mistake. “It costs me an average of $100,000 to get you off an alleged negligence situation,” says Snyder. “The minimum premium we offer is $350/year. Who in their right mind would chance $100,000 out-of-pocket expense over $350?”

And finally, when you do obtain insurance coverage, be sure to take the time to thoroughly understand the contents/extent of your policy, and have it reviewed regularly by a competent and trusted business insurance agent or lawyer. Mission: protection complete!

Protect Your Gym (and Your Male Coaches)

Protect Your Gym (and Your Male Coaches)

He’s dedicated. He’s athletic. He’s experienced. Cheerleaders respect him and parents like him. That male coach on your staff is a major contributor to your gym’s success. But could he also be a major risk?

If your knee-jerk reaction is “no,” consider the case of 24-year-old Andrew Gonzales, a coach at Harlingen, TX-based Elite Cheer. Earlier this year, Gonzales was accused of having performed sexual acts and sending obscene text messages to a 16-year-old male cheerleader at his former employer, rival gym South Texas Xtreme, and later issued a $20,000 bond. Though the charges were affiliated with another gym, Elite Cheer owner Brandy Maley was placed in the position of defending her employee publicly and dealing with possible negative ramifications for her gym’s image.

In a sport where young women make up the majority of athletes, it’s critical to keep male coaches—and your gym—safe from threats ranging from gender biases to sexual harassment. Take the proper precautions to ensure this type of situation doesn’t occur in your gym.

Develop procedures and enforce rules. At Cheer Force’s five locations around Southern California, owners Becky and Shawn Herrera have implemented strict policies about coaches’ interaction with kids. For instance, coaches aren’t allowed to give out their cell phone numbers and must keep a separate professional Facebook page if they want to communicate with athletes that way. Coaches are also forbidden from any transportation of athletes and socializing is only permitted at team events or outings. “We try to avoid situations where things can happen and that tends to alleviate them from happening,” says Shawn Herrera, who also holds staff meetings at least once a month to review rules and policies.

Introducing a “zero tolerance” approach has also been effective for the Herreras, who have an almost exclusively male coaching staff. Last year, they were forced to fire a male coach who’d developed a flirtation with a younger athlete (the two are now dating). “You can date an athlete or coach here, but you can’t do both,” says Herrera. “Anything that’s not appropriate—[we say,] ‘You’re gone.’ It’s an immediate termination.”

To communicate expectations, the Women’s Sports Foundation advises administrators to formulate a written policy that details appropriate and inappropriate behavior, to develop and distribute rules, and to clearly define sexual harassment and other violations. Should something go awry, it’s important to have proper reporting processes in place for coaches and athletes alike—such as whom to talk to, how informal and formal complaint procedures work, and what should be confidential. All personnel should also receive periodic training on gym policies and how to respond properly if an athlete confides in them about inappropriate behavior.

Screen and train employees. Carefully check all staff members’ backgrounds and qualifications, including looking into and addressing any previous incidents. At Cheer Force, the Herreras consult all of a prospective employee’s former employers to check references before making any hiring decisions. If a potential coach comes on board with no previous experience, the employee must wait at least a year before they are permitted to work with teams in that capacity. “We take a while before we let [coaches] into the inner circle,” says Herrera.

Herrera also relies on his intuition when making new hires, as well as the way others he trusts respond to the potential hire. “When new coaches come in, I look at how my two sons react to them. If my boys latch on to them and like them, it usually turns out to be a good coach for us,” says Herrera.

Demand professionalism. Regardless of gender, a coach’s behavior is constantly being watched and judged. Your zero tolerance policy should extend to any displays of ignorance, immaturity, and other inappropriate behavior for all staff. “It’s all about professionalism,” says Jeremy Towle, choreographer and former head instructor for the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA). “If something happens, like a hand slips when spotting a stunt, you avoid the awkward giggles and just keep moving forward.”

At Cheer Force, coaches are indeed being watched—literally. Cameras record everything happening within the gym’s confines, mostly to serve as protection against possible accusations of negligence. “Everything is recorded,” says Herrera. “We tell our coaches to always stay in view of a camera and they’ll have video proof that nothing happened. You don’t have that at a pool party or a movie theater, so you have to take extra precautions [in social settings]—but within these walls, it’s a safe place.”

Keep parental lines of communication open. Athletes and parents who are new to competitive cheerleading may be surprised—or even concerned—to learn that a man will be in charge of their team. Alleviate concerns by emphasizing the prevalence of male coaches in the sport, as well as touting the experience and achievements of male staff members. Also, be upfront from the outset: introduce male coaches and their roles at tryouts, be open about the gym’s safety and sexual harassment policies, and immediately address any concerns that are raised.

“As soon as you have any information, it’s important to act upon it and inform the parent,” says Herrera. “We try to be an open book—nothing is hidden.”

-Katelyn Holbrook

Working Wisdom: Q&A with Steve Wedge

Working Wisdom: Q&A with Steve Wedge

From the moment Steve Wedge got his first taste of competitive glory as an Ohio State University cheerleader, he was hooked. It was during Wedge’s first year of cheering that the squad brought home the title from UCA’s Ford Collegiate Cheerleading National Championships in Honolulu—and he hasn’t looked back since. Armed with a business degree and several years of choreography and judging experience, Wedge went on to start his own company, COA Cheer & Dance, where he was president and CEO for 25 years. By the time he retired in 2011, COA had grown to more than 100 instructional camps and 35 competitions.

Along with serving as COA’s fearless leader, Wedge has maintained involvement in a virtual alphabet of associations—from the National Council for Spirit Safety and Education (NCSSE) to the Spirit Industry Trade Association (SITA) to the International Cheerleading Union (ICU) to the USASF (for which he sits on the Worlds Advisory Board). Much of his time is also spent spearheading the Shirley A. Wedge National Cheer and Dance Scholarship Fund, which has awarded more than $600,000 to deserving athletes.

CheerProfessional caught up with this busy cheer mogul for an in-depth Q&A:

When weighing the various competitions and camps available, what factors should cheer professionals take into account?

Wedge: Cheer professionals should consider many factors when selecting competitions and camps, but many times budget and price are dominant factors. Parents can drive these two factors, but looking at the big picture, cheer professionals should also consider event/camp producer experience, reputation and quality, event/camp location (i.e. is it easy to get to and is it family-friendly?), fit (i.e. does the score system fit the style, skill and level of their teams), competition (i.e. will their teams have ample teams to compete with?), and of course, date.

You’ve said that customer service has been the key to COA’s success. How do you think cheer gyms can best provide optimal service to their own clientele?  

Wedge: With all things being equal (i.e. sound skill development and coaching), it is great customer service that will retain current customers and attract new customers. Cheer gym clientele (parents and athletes) want to feel appreciated and the best way to accomplish this is by providing top-notch customer service through accessibility of gym personnel (especially gym owners); effective, compassionate and frequent communication; and last, but not least, transparency.

You work with Spirit Industry Trade Association, which focuses on industry issues and relevant topics. What in your opinion are some of the top concerns or issues facing cheer professionals today?

Wedge: Support, respect and professionalism. While we have come a long way in these areas, we are only as strong as our weakest link, so all cheer professionals must continually strive to promote and exhibit positive actions, images, and beliefs to others involved with the cheerleading industry, as well to those in the general public.

You also sit on the ICU Safety Council. What’s your response to the media reports and people who say cheerleading is unsafe?

Wedge: Media geared towards the general population needs readers/viewers, and one way they capture an audience is by generalizing, sensationalizing, and sometimes making conclusions without complete information and sound data. These media techniques have plagued the perception and reputation of cheerleading since at least the early 1980’s. Like all sports, cheerleading also possesses inherent risks.  However, the risk of injury can be mitigated with the proper equipment and environment, and continuous education and training of coaches and athletes.

Your Shirley A. Wedge National Cheer and Dance Scholarship fund provides college scholarships for high school juniors and seniors. Do you have any tips for cheer gym owners who want to help their athletes procure college scholarships?

Wedge: Gym owners can help their athletes procure college scholarships by providing consistent promotion and exposure at competitions and by networking with college coaches and choreographers. If the best cheerleading athletes in the world are not given these platforms, college programs that provide scholarships will have a difficult time discovering them.

Your cheer career spans more than 30 years—what do you think the future holds for all-star cheerleading?

Wedge: All-star cheerleading has a firm foundation in the United States and an ever-growing presence in the world due to the efforts of the USASF/IASF and the ICU. In recent years, the growth pace of all-star cheerleading has slowed (some would say stalled) in the United States, but I believe that will change as we continue to emerge from the Great Recession and the next wave of athletes choose to become gym owners.  As far as the rest of the world is concerned, I firmly believe this is still the area of greatest growth potential for all-star cheerleading. In five to 10 years, I would expect there to be more all-star cheerleaders in the rest of the world than there are in the United States.

What’s your personal motto or mantra for success?

Wedge: Work harder than everyone else, do it ethically, with dignity and humility, and treat others with kindness and respect.

If you could give the modern cheer professional one piece of advice, what would it be?

Wedge: Respect your profession and your colleagues by setting the bar high and always strive to do things that will advance the profession as a whole.

Game Changers: Jessica Smith of Southern Cheer Elite

Game Changers: Jessica Smith of Southern Cheer Elite

When Jessica Smith first started her Danville, KY-based gym, Southern Cheer Elite, she stacked her shelves with all the business books she could get her hands on. But the primers didn’t prep Smith with the intel necessary for success—either the information wasn’t industry-specific enough or didn’t have practical applications for her own business. One thing was clear: Smith was going to have to find her own way to make it as a small gym owner.

She tossed the books and followed her own instincts to create a thriving business in the world of all-star cheerleading. In two years, Southern Cheer Elite has grown from 12 to more than 130 athletes—a stark contrast to its humble beginnings. “I started my business with $30 worth of borrowed equipment,” she remembers. “We slept on the floor of our apartment and I worked 60 hours a week as a waitress.”

Smith was soon able to say sayonara to her day job, progress that she credits to following her gut. According to Smith, most of the experts in the books she read recommended diversification—advice she chose not to heed and has since seen a growth of 20 percent. Instead, Smith turned her focus to exceeding customer expectations and incorporating personal touches in her dealings with families and athletes. “You have to go out there and hustle and be a part of people’s lives,” says Smith. To do so, Smith and her staff do everything from sending birthday cards to giving out long-stemmed roses at competition. Even the invitation to join their team spreads the proverbial love, as it resembles a wedding invitation.

It’s all part of Smith’s philosophy that cheer parents are actually her employers—one she believes that many gym owners forget or neglect. Smith says many owners believe that everyone is replaceable, but at Southern Cheer Elite, that’s not the case. To minimize commuting and maximize convenience, Smith often goes as far as to change class times or let parents bring kids of different ages at the same time. She also seeks parental input when it comes to scheduling meetings: “We don’t just tell them when it will be,” says Smith. “I’m going to be that person that accommodates them.”

Part of the reason Smith values her cheer parents (whom she calls her “advocates”) so much is her belief that they played a big role in the rapid growth of Southern Cheer Elite. Many parents took it upon themselves to refer new business along with their own, with one mom even bringing in 30 new athletes she’d rounded up. “Our business is forever indebted to those people who took a chance on us,” says Smith.

Smith’s employees are also vital to her success. She’s willing to train the right staff members, even if they have no prior experience in the cheer business—an approach she calls “growing your own staff.” She pays them more than she pays herself, a sacrifice she makes willingly. “They’re worth more than I am. I can’t do it without them,” says Smith, who didn’t take a salary the first year, and even now—like many business owners—is the last to get paid. “You have to be willing to be poor for a while,” she concedes.

For Smith, however, it’s a conduit to following her passion—and the eventual success of her business has allowed her to do just that. “If I won the MegaMillions on Friday, the only change you’d see is that I’d probably have a bigger facility. There can’t be a Plan B in starting a program,” says Smith. “You have to be all in.”

Going for Broke: Top 5 Money Mistakes

Going for Broke: Top 5 Money Mistakes

While teaching a profitability seminar at the 2012 Worlds, ACX owner Randy Dickey made a startling discovery. “Out of 160 gym owners, not one raised their hand when I asked this question: how many of you know your hourly expenses for running your company?” remembers Dickey, who also leads the All-Star Gym Association. “Many of them were just charging the same as the gym down the street—they didn’t realize that they were losing profit because they weren’t charging enough.”

Lack of financial clarity is just one of many common mistakes made by business owners. We asked Dickey for his take on common financial pitfalls and the precautions cheer gym owners can take to steer clear of making them:

1. Launching too much, too fast: Though the exciting nature of starting an all-star gym can make it tempting to go all in, starting small is often more conducive to longevity. Dickey first opened ACX in 1996 with “very minimal equipment and very small debt,” renting space out of a local gymnastics facility on a percentage basis. “As we made money and grew our clientele, we then used the profits to buy more,” he explains. His gradual investment approach ended up having an unintended benefit: “We were always surprising our existing clients by constantly adding new elements such as a new floor and extra space. When you give everything away at first, people don’t appreciate it as much.”

2. Not taking all expenses into account when budgeting: When figuring out your monthly “break-even” budget, Dickey says it’s essential to factor in everything from property taxes to estimated tax payments to payroll to website hosting. “Take all of your bills and divide the total by how many hours you’re open—if you’re not making that much per hour, you’re in trouble,” says Dickey. To better plan ahead, Dickey keeps a monthly log of not only expenses, but also key milestones or financial factors of note (i.e. payroll being tight, enrollment fluctuations); he then refers to it the following year as a barometer of what to expect each month.

3. Not planning for setbacks or disasters: Even the most efficient entrepreneurs can’t control the unexpected—from storm damage to vandalism to our volatile economy. Although there’s no way to avoid these hardships, you can prepare for these events by having adequate insurance, backup money (cash and lines of credit), and more than one contingency plan in place. “We have every type of insurance you could imagine,” shares Dickey. “It’s also important to know the difference between replacement cost value and actual cash value.” (Replacement cost insurance is preferable, as it typically will replace the damaged item whereas actual cash value insurance takes depreciation into account.)

4. Letting competition distract you from the bottom line: “There are two types of gym owners: those who want to make money and those who want to win,” says Dickey. “9 out of 10 times, you can’t do both.” Dickey cautions against giving too many scholarships or making financial exceptions for top athletes, as that can backfire in a number of ways (such as resentment amongst other teams in the program and/or resulting loss of business).

5. Mixing business and personal money: When it comes to spending, the famed “KISS” adage applies: “Keep it separate, silly!” Having dedicated bank accounts and a business credit card is a must, not only for tax purposes but also to establish legitimacy; personal finances should be a completely separate entity from that of your cheer gym. Another enticing reason? Racking up rewards points on your business credit card can help you save on significant expenses. Dickey uses his American Express points to pay for coaches’ flights and hotel rooms when traveling to competition.

Shares Dickey, “It saves a lot of money over time.”


Spotlight: Morton Bergue of CheerGyms.com

Spotlight: Morton Bergue of CheerGyms.com

When in doubt, diversify, diversify, diversify. For CheerGyms.com owner Morton Bergue, all-star cheerleading is just one part of a bigger puzzle, as it comprises one-fifth of overall business. To maximize profitability, Bergue and his team regularly host classes and stunt/jump clinics for novices and school squads, and space is rented out during non-peak hours for everything from birthday parties to Tae Kwon Do classes. Much like master classes at a dance studio, Bergue also orchestrates weekend workshops with notables like Victor Rosario and Debbie Love.

The move isn’t just a smart business strategy, but a necessary one—says Bergue, “It’s the only way to make a gym paying California prices work.” (Bergue pays around $1.25/sq. ft.) It’s also a branding tactic for Bergue, who says the phrase “cheer gym” is perceived as more inclusive by their customer base. “You call it an all-star gym, and high schools and youth groups don’t want to come because they’re afraid you’ll steal their kids,” he shares. “My philosophy is that as a ‘cheer gym,’ you open up your money a lot more. Otherwise, you’re completely reliant on all-stars.”

Bergue’s philosophy also translates to competition, which isn’t as much of a focus for CheerGyms.com as team bonding and family atmosphere. “I’m an old dinosaur. I try to run [this business] on integrity and make the kids have a good year, not be all about winning,” he shares. “Worlds is just one percent of our industry—most kids are levels one, two, or three. That’s the kid we want to nourish.”

This practical approach has been key to Cheer Gyms’ success and longevity. The program’s roots were first laid in 1995, when Bergue left his post as NCA’s West Coast Director to team up with Danny Kahn (who created the first all-star team in the country in the mid-80s) and then-owner Patricia Reith. The trio launched what was then known as Pyramids, Inc. with an enrollment of 25 cheerleaders. 27 years later, Cheergyms.com is one of the longest-standing programs in the country, boasting three gyms, 200 all-star cheerleaders, 800 class cheerleaders, and regular engagements with 15 high schools. “We got into this business at the beginning,” says Bergue.

Along with the growth of his own program, Bergue has immersed himself in the international sector of all-star cheerleading, where he sees a lot of growth potential (largely thanks to greater exposure in the media and on sites like YouTube). For the last decade, Bergue has been judging national competitions in London and has also appeared at camps, clinics, and conferences in Japan, Mexico, Canada, and other countries. “Opportunities in other countries range from judging to clinics to speaking to choreography,” Bergue says. “Many [cheer professionals] are taking advantage of this boom of cheer across the world and making good money on it.”

And he’s paving the way.


Spotlight: Stingray All-Stars

Spotlight: Stingray All-Stars

On the surface, Stingrays duo Casey Jones and Roger Schonder may come off like polar opposites, but one commonality shines—for both of them, all roads lead back to cheer. Jones began his career cheering at Georgia Southern University, then cut his teeth at Pro Cheer before purchasing American Cheer Academy from Tate Chalk in 1998. When he reinvented the gym as the Stingray All-Stars in 2002, Schonder was on the verge of leaving the industry altogether and becoming a pilot, but shifted gears to join Jones’ new venture as the fledgling program’s all-star director.

And what a difference a decade makes—as Schonder’s talents have taken flight in an entirely new direction. “When we planned this out, we wanted our all-star program to be the best in the world,” shares Jones. “That’s what we are always striving for.” Adds Schonder, “We both had the same vision. We wanted a program that was successful at every level and age group.”

Many would say they’re well on their way to accomplishing that shared mission, consistently placing in the top 3 at Worlds and winning a slew of national championships at NCA, JamFest, and others. (The Stingrays hold six Worlds titles in the Small Senior division alone.) In 10 years, the gym’s manpower has more than doubled—from 9 teams with 200+ athletes to 18 teams with 500+ athletes. In April, the Marietta, GA-based gym also expanded to include a second location about 30 miles away in Johns Creek, GA.

Casey Jones

“I spent a year trying to decide whether to start [a new location] from scratch or buy out a smaller gym,” says Jones, who now splits his time between Marietta and Johns Creek. “We ended up buying out the All-Star Panthers, which was on the side of town we wanted and felt like a great fit. Now I’m focused on trying to grow and set the right foundation—we want [Johns Creek] to be equally as successful.”

The two are willing to put in the extra time to make that happen, and frequently take bike rides or make Starbucks runs for the sole purpose of discussing strategy. In running the program, Jones says he and Schonder often get “lumped together” by people outside their business, but make no mistake: the two each have distinctly different roles in shaping its success. Jones, the business guru, has gradually gravitated away from coaching to focus on the bigger picture—including tumbling classes, school teams, and 100+ summer camps—while Schonder keeps his creative energy laser-focused on raising the bar for the all-star program. The result? A dynamic left-brain/right-brain-esque synergy.

“To me, [Roger] is the best in the business at what he does,” says Jones. “He’s constantly trying to make our program better and really takes the time to study the sport. He truly has an eye for detail and an ability to get his teams to follow through on those details.” Schonder returns the admiration, saying, “I really appreciate Casey’s ability to run our business effectively, but not make it feel like ‘work.’”

Roger Schonder

That particular attribute has become a central part of the gym’s philosophy and approach. “We’re not into hard work, we’re into smart work,” says Jones. “It’s all about trying to take the things we learn from each season and focus on getting better. We’ve incorporated different training methodologies and a lot more warm-up into our practices; our goal is to be at the forefront of training and not do things the way we’ve always done them.” To that end, he and Schonder now require their approximately 80 staff members to undergo several yearly trainings along with an annual retreat, and all coaches must be USASF-certified for all levels.

In that vein, Jones is reticent to limit the credit for Stingray All-Stars’ success to just himself and Schonder. “It literally takes every single one of us to do the job that we do,” shares Jones. “That’s the kind of thing I pride myself on—I think we have the best staff in the country. I’m just along for the ride.”


-Jen Jones Donatelli

Owner’s Manual: Jennifer Burke of Burke’s Tumbling Academy

Owner’s Manual: Jennifer Burke of Burke’s Tumbling Academy

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 what gets Jennifer Burke in gear below:

Vital Stats

Name: Jennifer Burke, Owner

Gym: Burke’s Tumbling Academy (BTA)

Location: Swampscott, MA

Founded: 2004 for tumbling; cheer added in 2010

Size: 300 students; 80 cheerleaders

The Dish

The best part of owning my gym is watching the athletes improve on their skills, have fun and fulfill their dreams. Also, I love watching the younger kids fall in love with the sport. Tumbling has always been my favorite part of cheer, so I serve as the head tumbling instructor at BTA. I consciously am not a head coach of any specific team—I enjoy working with all of them!

One of the biggest challenges is having cheerleaders from other gyms coming to me to improve their tumbling skills. That’s often frowned upon by their own coaches. However, nothing makes me happier than seeing these young ladies out there in different uniforms, accomplishing their individual and team goals. My advice to other gym owners is that this is about people, not places.

Also, being a young gym owner has its challenges. My personal goals are to have satisfied athletes that continue to develop. The high expectation in this sport for winning by the coaches, parents and athletes is important to a gym’s success. However, for me personally, sometimes this collides with my own goals, so it’s all about striking a balance.

Watch this Patch.com video featuring Jennifer and BTA!

Who do you want to see featured in Owner’s Manual? Sound off in the comment section.

Get Creative: Outside-the-Box Ideas for Getting New Customers

Get Creative: Outside-the-Box Ideas for Getting New Customers

Whether you’ve just opened your doors or have been in business for decades, one of your primary business concerns is probably attracting new students. Traditional marketing strategies like radio, television, or billboard advertisements can certainly be effective—but they’re also expensive and not guaranteed to get results. Luckily, there are better, more affordable ways to advertise your gym and bring in new business. Here are a few ideas to kickstart your recruiting process:

Snag them in a flash. Boost excitement and curiosity in your program by planning a “flash mob” (a surprise impromptu performance). Partner with community events or festivals, or find a venue that will let you stage your own flash mob—and make sure you have flyers on hand for audiences after the show! It’s also important to time the event strategically (such as around tryout time); for instance, the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders were able to boost attendance for their annual “Making the Cut” auditions by staging a flash mob at Baltimore’s popular Power Plant Live! Entertainment complex just days beforehand (see picture on left).

Build a virtual tour of your gym. When visitors find you online, letting them “see” your gym can go a long way toward bringing them in for a visit. Many companies offer virtual tour software at reasonable prices or can build and install an interactive tour on your website. Another option is to follow Cheer Extreme All-Stars’ lead by filming and hosting your own tour on YouTube; hosted by owner Courtney Smith-Pope, their upbeat video currently has upwards of 23,000 views.

Get active in localized social media. While sites like Facebook and Twitter are great for national exposure, they’re also an extremely effective means of building a strong local network and keeping your community up-to-date on happenings at your cheer gym. (And did we mention they’re F-R-E-E?) Offer sign-up specials for brand-new Facebook friends or Twitter followers, and encourage your faithful clients to write reviews on Yelp. A recent Yelp study found that 27% of consumers read online reviews when making purchasing decisions, and 85% of consumers are relying on the Internet to find local businesses. Don’t miss out on being part of the “click!”

Give potential cheerleaders a taste of the all-star life. Contact local schools to find out if they have a “try it” sports program; you can also offer to participate in their physical education curriculum for tumbling. (For instance, the Pflugerville, TX school district offers off-campus credit for students who participate in Texas All-Star Cheer’s program.) Also, get connected with the Girl Scouts troops in your area via the national website’s “Find a Council” directory; many troops offer a “Try-It” badge for girls who want to try new sports.

No matter which method you ultimately use, make sure to maximize the opportunity to meet your intention: getting new business. At every event or appearance, it’s crucial to have plenty of promotional takeaway material on hand for potential customers; possible pieces include business cards, class schedules, flyers, postcards, and/or bumper stickers. On social media sites, make sure your website and contact information are clearly listed, and choose photos that best represent the ideal image of your program.

Put these smart strategies into practice, and watch your classes fill up in no time!

Bullying: Not Something To Cheer About

Bullying: Not Something To Cheer About

On Friday, people across Canada are gathering in memory of Vancouver All-Stars cheerleader Amanda Todd, who took her own life last week after being the victim of online stalking and cyber-bullying for several years. (Before her death, she made this YouTube video to tell her story—warning: video includes graphic images.)

These vigils speak not only to the tragic loss of a 15-year-old, but also to a bigger issue at hand—both in society at large and our industry. Bullying has hit an all-time high, with one out of every four children being bullied and almost half of all children being bullied in some form online. So here’s the question: what can we do as cheer professionals to protect our athletes and make sure the deaths of cheerleaders like Amanda Todd, Peter Blake McCullers, Jeffrey Fehr and others are not in vain?

Here are some ways you can start:

**Sign this petition from Cheer for a Cause to pass H.R. 975, the Anti-Bullying and Harassment Act, which makes it easier for parents and schools to report and act on incidences of bullying and harassment.

**Make a statement. Follow in the steps of the University of Louisville, which posted this photo on Twitter this week to speak out against bullying, or CheerFactor All-Stars and Phoenix All-Stars, both programs which are spearheading anti-bullying campaigns.

**Contact us at CheerProfessional or leave a comment if you’ve dealt with bullying in your gym or want to share ideas for anti-bullying initiatives. We’ll be covering this issue in our Winter 2013 publication and want to hear from you.

Love & Marriage…In the Gym

Love & Marriage…In the Gym

Mixing business and pleasure is certainly standard practice in the all-star industry—many gym co-owners are married, and plenty of coaches end up dating after spending so much time in close quarters. But can keeping things all business affect the relationship once you get home from work?

“People usually take their business home because it’s useful to talk to someone who has no connection to it,” says Dr. Margaret Clark, professor of psychology at Yale University. “But if you both happen to be in the business together and one of you is complaining, you don’t have a nonjudgmental person to talk to because they’ll have an opinion, too. You don’t get that sympathy.”

Clark says it’s natural for people who work together or who own a business together to want to talk about it after hours, but she advises against it. She says that instead of venting to your spouse or significant other, find someone else who will listen. “You’re mixing two relationships that operate with different rules,” says Clark, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and whose research is in relationships and emotions. “In the personal relationship, what’s ideal is that we’re responsive to each other’s needs, desires and goals, whereas in a business setting, it’s not so need-based, so these two things can conflict.”

Laura Rosenberg is a Chicago-based licensed clinical professional counselor who specializes in relationships and sees several clients who are both working together and romantically involved. She says the way to keep business in the gym and your personal relationship out of the gym is to come up with a “workplace version of a prenup.” It should cover areas such as, “’How are we going to handle affection at work? We’ll only take our breaks together twice a week. We’re going to go out with our friends one night a week. How do we handle it if we fight or break up at work?’ These are some of the things that have to be addressed if you want a healthy relationship,” says Rosenberg, who’s been in private practice for 15 years.

Clark agrees. “Have the rules be very clear for the business setting,” she says. “At the gym, [you should have the mindset of] ‘Here’s how we deal with things, and this is how we do it.’”

Rosenberg’s Do’s & Don’ts

Do be upfront that you’re dating and be professional. Try to minimize touching, flirting, and kissing at work.

Don’t spend all your time together outside of work.

Do make sure you spend time with girlfriends or guy friends or alone.

Don’t talk about work when you’re out on dates. If you need to complain about work, have others in your life that you can talk to about that.

Do have an idea of how you’re going to handle things if the relationship ends.

-Jackie Pilossoph

Fast Blast: Get in Shape on the Go

Fast Blast: Get in Shape on the Go

With the many demands of coaching and running a gym, finding time for your own workouts can often pose a challenge. (Understatement.) Fortunately, the rules of exercise have changed, and “workouts on the go” have become increasingly common. With the right approach, you can get an effective workout in just minutes a day, wherever you are. Get our experts’ four top tips below—and go, go, go!

Join Your Team During Practices.

Your number one job is to coach safely and effectively, but that doesn’t mean you can’t multi-task. While training time with your team shouldn’t count as your only daily workout, burning a few extra calories never hurts. “Be certain to consider this your low intensity time on the clock and use it to help you accumulate activity during the day,” says Shannon Fable, a former cheerleader for the University of Florida and an ACE certified personal trainer. Fable recommends getting a pedometer to monitor your level of activity during the day and running extra laps around the mat once the team goes home.

Make Do With the Minimum.

There are tons of ways to sneak in exercise while on the go and most of them require no equipment whatsoever. For a quick workout with no equipment, Fable recommends doing 10 each of the following:  squats, push ups, squats jumps, triceps push-ups, burpees, crunches, oblique crunches, and a 60-second plank before repeating. Podcasts and phone apps are also great options, according to Jennifer Galardi, a health and fitness expert who works with some of the hottest bodies in Hollywood, including Kim Kardashian and Carmen Electra. She recommends yoga, plyometrics, squats, planks, interval training—all things that can be done solo in a small space.

Take Advantage of Travel Opportunities.

Don’t use travel as an excuse to stop working out. Many hotels have incorporated workout rooms in their facilities, so you can usually exercise without even leaving the building. Fable also recommends trying out the app Nike Training, which offers options for workouts that last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. “If you’ve been monitoring how much activity you get in a day when you’re at home, set a goal to reach the same numbers while you’re traveling,” says Fable.

Make the Most of Split Workouts.

Don’t have time to spend an hour running? Don’t despair. It’s possible to get good results by working out in smaller chunks of time several times a day. “I’m a big fan of getting done what you can in the time you have,” says Galardi. Sneak 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the middle of the day, and 20 minutes later in the evening and you’ll have gotten a full, effective workout all without even realizing it. For this to work, though, you need to give each short workout your all. “The best tip I have on making the most of a brief session? Be present. Execute your workout with the same diligence you teach your students and you’ll be successful,” says Galardi.

-Diana Bocco


Cheer Orgs and Associations 101

Cheer Orgs and Associations 101

As the all-star cheerleading industry has blossomed, an array of organizations has also sprung onto the cheer scene—resulting in a virtual alphabet soup of acronyms from ASGA to NCSSE to USASF.  Learn more about each group and how to decipher your options as a cheer professional with this handy-dandy slide show!



American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA)

First founded in 1988, this non-profit educational association is dedicated to safety education. Its more than 70,000 member cheerleading coaches represent areas ranging from youth to high school to all-star to collegiate cheer and more. AACCA also provides ongoing certification opportunities for coaches and administrators, as well as secondary liability insurance coverage.

Website: http://www.aacca.org



United States All-Star Federation (USASF)

The national governing body for the all-star cheer industry, the USASF was founded in 2003 by the collective group of National Cheerleaders Association (NCA), Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), Cheersport and America’s Best. Today the org has more than 500 member gyms and 130 competition sponsors, all of which agree to follow a standard set of rules set forth by the USASF. USASF also offers coach and athlete credentialing, scholarship programs, and other special programs. In conjunction with International All-Star Federation (IASF), USASF hosts the annual Cheerleading Worlds competition in Orlando, FL.

Website: http://usasf.net

National Advisory Board

National Advisory Board (NAB)

A subset of the USASF, the National Advisory Board is comprised of 25 members, all of whom serve two-year terms and are elected by the overall membership. Its purpose is to “set the agenda for the USASF as it addresses the future in a manner that will democratically represent the entire membership of the USASF.” The majority of the NAB are coaches and event producers (10 each), while the remaining five advisory board members represent affiliates.

Website: http://usasf.net/members/board/


National Small Gyms Association

The NSGA is dedicated to recognizing and meeting the unique needs of small gyms with less than 75 members. (Once a gym grows to more than 150 athletes, it is no longer eligible to be part of NSGA.) In recent years, the NSGA merged its organization with the USASF, and annual fees are now included in overall USASF membership. The association meets annually at the NACCC to further the interests of small gyms across the nation.

Website: http://www.usasf.net/members/smallgym


National All-Star Cheerleading Coaches Congress (NACCC)

Also a subset of the USASF (since 2005), the NACCC is held every January in Atlanta, GA, and is designed to give USASF members from across the country “a voice in the government.” At this industry meeting of the minds, rules changes and other policies of note are discussed and voted on by the membership at large. It now also encompasses the annual NSGA meeting since the group has joined forces with USASF.

Website: http://usasf.net/cheer/


National Council for Spirit Safety and Education (NCSSE)

Headed by Liz Rossetti of Americheer, the NCSSE features an international council of industry leaders whose aims are to provide comprehensive safety training and certification for spirit coaches and advisors. Nine countries are represented in its membership, and its board members include Americheer, British Cheerleading Association, Southwestern Cheerleading Association, Cheer Ltd. and UPA Cheer and Dance.

Website: http://www.spiritsafety.com


Independent Event Producers (IEP)

Founded in September 2009 by a core group of eight companies (Mardi Gras, UPA Cheer & Dance, Cheer America, Pac West, WSA, Spirit Celebration, Champion Cheer and Cheer Ltd.), IEP serves as an independently functioning group of event producers who come together for the greater good. (Eligible members are independent companies with revenues of $5 million+ that are not owned or controlled by any spirit industry entity.) Since its inception, IEP has grown to more than 20 member companies and held its first all-member conference in Las Vegas in 2010.

Website: http://www.weareiep.com


Association of Spirit Industry Professionals (ASIP)

The largest spirit trade association in the world, ASIP features more than 100 participating countries internationally. Among its members are educational organizations, suppliers, publications, competition organizers, safety organizations and gym owner groups. This large-scale organization represents an August 2011 merger between Organization of Spirit Industry Providers (OSIP) and the Spirit Industry Trade Association (SITA).

Website: http://spiritindustry.com/membership/asip-members/


All-Star Gym Association (ASGA)

The ASGA was founded in 2012 to give new voice to gym owners and coaches through “democracy, transparency and free market.” A major part of its mission is to lower overall cost for athletes and increase economic viability for gym owners. It takes an active stance on industry issues, and in spring 2012, published the results of its membership survey on the new USASF rules changes. The organization’s first “Town Hall Meeting” was held in April 2012 in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

Website: http://www.allstargymassociation.org

Candid Coach: Cory Nyholm and Shiela Hajjar

Candid Coach: Cory Nyholm and Shiela Hajjar

Coaches gone candid—it’s Q&A time! We asked Cory Nyholm of Alpine All Stars in Parker, CO, and Shiela Hajjar of Cheer Zone Athletics in Saucier, MS, to give us the real deal on their coaching experiences.

Q. What are three things you’ll never do again as a coach?

Cory: First, I’ll never again take my teams to a competition that doesn’t really fit their style. Second, I’ll never allow my team to leave final practice if they’re not ready for their competition. Finally, I’ll never skip proper progressions for short-term goals.

Shiela: One thing I’d never do again is go to a new cheer brand and not fully review their scoring system and scoresheet. I’ll also never “count” on any child to come or not to come back for another season—they’ll either come or others will fill those spots. Finally, I’d never again change my routine each time we competed at a different brand. This eventually sets the kids up for missed choreography and missed counts. It can be a total mess.

What’s one thing you’ll never say to a cheerleader?

Cory: That any level skill is easier than another. The skill that each child is on is, at that moment, the most difficult for them. And it draws comparisons to other skills and athletes instead of keeping the focus on the athlete and their needs.

Shiela: “Tell your mom…” I, alone, should be the one to communicate any messages to cheer parents.

Q: What is the best lesson you’ve learned while being a coach?

Cory: We can make positive lifelong lessons that cheerleaders will carry for the rest of their lives.

Shiela: All kids get burned out toward the end of the competition season. It’s natural. I try to mix it up and have some fun toward the end so kids leave with positive memories.

Like this post? Don’t miss our Candid Coach interview with Trisha Hart of All-Star Legacy. Who do you want to see featured in Candid Coach? Sound off in the comment section.

(Web Exclusive)