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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

Candid Coach: Alisha Dunlap

Candid Coach: Alisha Dunlap

Fresh off Season Two of TLC’s “Cheer Perfection,” Alisha Dunlap’s gym and life have taken the spotlight once again. Find out what challenges and opportunities the exposure has brought this spirited coach and owner of Cheer Time Revolution, and learn what advice she has for other coaches hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“Cheer Perfection” just finished its second season. How has exposure from the show positively and/or negatively impacted Cheer Time Revolution?

Dunlap: At first the “cheer world” was not behind the show, so [my husband] RD and I took a lot of flack over it, but I knew, with time, it would show us as we truly are. For the gym, it has been so positive. It has put our name out there and also shown everyday kids that anyone can learn to cheer.

Since the show premiered, has it changed the way you interact with parents in your gym? Have their expectations shifted at all?

Dunlap: The show hasn’t changed the way I do things at the gym, but it has made me deal with the parents a little differently. I really have too much of an open line of communication with them; this “open door policy” may have given them a bit too much accessibility to me, but I still wouldn’t change this [approach]—as it has made Cheer Time Revolution the family that it is. As for expectations, I am not sure those have changed; our gym parents have always liked to win and want their kids to be the best they can be.

What tips do you have for gym owners who would like to gain more exposure for their gym? 

Dunlap: Just put yourself out there by becoming more involved in your community, city and state functions. I never realized how getting your name out there could draw so many new clients. Our athletes do halftime performances at various collegiate basketball games, and we’ve been very involved in events such as Race for a Cure; we also work hand-in-hand with the City of Little Rock Tourism Bureau as city ambassadors. We believe it’s important to give back to the city and communities that have supported us.

What advice would you give to those who take part in a reality show?

Dunlap: Enjoy it. Have fun with it, but stand your ground and be you. Don’t let anyone tell you who they want you to be. My family and I have been so lucky to have a crew that has let us be “us.”  You can’t let the spotlight get to you. Always remember that when the cameras and fame go away, life goes just right back to how it was before.

What has been the biggest challenge that “Cheer Perfection” has presented in your off-camera life—at the gym or otherwise?

Dunlap: The biggest challenge is trying to please all the fans at competitions. I am there for a reason, and that reason is to get my teams on the floor so they are able to do their best. I have to give my team my attention. It can be really hard to try to do it all! It gets to the kids, too.  When hundreds of kids want their photos and autographs, I have to keep their focus on why they are there as well. But we love everyone that supports us and wish we had the time to see and visit with all of them!

Besides increased exposure and clientele, what opportunities has “Cheer Perfection” presented that you may not have anticipated?

Dunlap: We have had lots of great things come our way.  We are doing lots of traveling to other gyms in other states for consulting, clinics and meet-and-greets. The supporters of Cheer Time Revolution are amazing, so we always embrace opportunities to meet them. We are also looking forward to our European tour and summer camps in 2014. Seeing other gyms and how they do things is a ton of fun; we love learning as much as we love teaching.

Are there any themes that “Cheer Perfection” has not yet addressed that you’d like to see highlighted in a future show?

Dunlap: I would really like “Cheer Perfection” to show more teams and how children of all ages and skill levels do it.

What are your short and long-term goals for the gym? How does “Cheer Perfection” fit into those plans?

Dunlap: The short-term goal is to have a great season at CTR and have our teams do their very best and learn a lot this year.  The long-term goal is that I want CTR to be the place to be; I want to teach athletes to be their best. “Cheer Perfection” will always have a place at CTR—the experience has been so much fun for these kids and families.

-Sara Schapmann