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.