champions league

A Place Among the Giants: Brandon All Stars

A Place Among the Giants: Brandon All Stars

We’re all familiar with the cheer powerhouses, organizations like Top Gun, California All Stars and Cheer Athletics, whose names and accolades easily come to mind. But among these giants, Brandon All-Stars has slowly and quietly emerged out of Brandon, Fla. (a suburb of Tampa), and is poised to take its place in the spotlight.

Brandon’s road to the big leagues began in 2005 when co-owner and President Peter Lezin took over the reins from founder Rhonda Cummings. When Cummings first opened Brandon in 1995, it was a recreational organization, whose attention slowly turned to competition. For Lezin, a veteran head instructor for NCA and former USF cheerleader/coach, the biggest challenge in the takeover was leaving that recreational mentality behind. “A billing system had to be put in place and a professional attitude needed to be displayed as well in all areas of the business,” says Lezin.

Enter Joslynne Harrod, Brandon’s Vice President and co-owner. A former Florida State cheerleader and four-year head instructor for NCA, Harrod and Lezin formed a friendship in the late 90s when both worked for the national cheer organization. In Harrod, Lezin found a unique opportunity—an accomplished, competitive coach with a head for business.

“I am a CPA by trade and am always thinking about the numbers,” Harrod said.  “Peter is definitely the more free-thinking, creative part of our business.”

If the results are any indication, this is a successful collaboration. In the near-decade since their formed partnership, Brandon has tripled in size, currently training upwards of 300 all-star athletes per year from Levels 1-5. They’ve also turned out consistent performances that fuel their growing reputation for solid stunting and snatch top rankings—most recently at Jamfest Supernationals, Athletic Championships and Worlds, (where in 2011 and 2012, they earned Gold and Silver, respectively, in the Small Senior Limited Coed 5 category).

Lezin says when it comes to training they focus on technique, as well as “perfection before progression,” with the aim of zero deductions during judging. Their motto on the floor is simple: “If you do hit, you might win…if you don’t hit, you won’t win.” The rest, says Lezin, “is up to the judges.”

That attitude of “do your best and don’t worry about the rest” has helped Brandon navigate Florida’s all-star culture—one that in the past, Lezin admits, was “hostile” but grows increasingly cooperative as “more and more gyms [find] their niche.” To that end, Brandon has developed strong relationships with many of their cohorts: Cheer Corp, Top Dog, Top Gun, Premier and Cheer Florida to name a few. The kids have followed suit. This movement towards cooperative connectivity, aided by the rise in social media and the cheerlebrity phenomenon, may have driven what Lezin calls the industry’s latest trend—a shift from “team” to “individual” recognition. “I think that’s just the nature of the beast because the kids are all so connected now,” said Lezin, “whereas before all you knew was a certain team and not the individual.”

So what’s next for Brandon? The goal is two-fold. First and foremost, Lezin and Harrod aim to shape their cheerleaders into productive members of society, whose athleticism will serve to broaden their educational opportunities. Second, they want what every competitive cheer organization standing on the verge of greatness wants: to secure their place among the giants, as an industry leader and household name.

In April, they came one step closer to realizing that dream when Brandon marked its cinematic debut in Champions League, a “cheer documentary” that traced one night of fierce competition among 30 of the country’s most celebrated teams. Says Lezin, “Champions League is a game changer [for Brandon].”

We shall see.

 

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