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Randy Dickey

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

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.”

Two Sides: STUNT

Two Sides: STUNT

Will the growing popularity of STUNT have detrimental effects on all-star? CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.

Has the quest to make cheerleading a sport finally hit its stride? With the formation of College STUNT Association and STUNT, USA Cheer’s answer is an emphatic “yes.” Designed to meet Title IX requirements, the sport of STUNT follows a four-quarter format focused strictly on athletic and technical skills including partner STUNTs, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling. All teams must perform the same choreography and technical sequences, and there is no crowd-leading element—differentiating STUNT from both school-based and all-star cheer.

Currently, USA Cheer is taking steps to secure STUNT as an NCAA emerging sport, but not everyone in the cheer industry believes that STUNT is a step forward. We spoke with Randy Dickey of ACX Cheer and Kim Gaskin, high school cheer coach and president of New Jersey State Coaches Association, to find out their perspectives.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Randy Dickey
Owner, ACX Cheer

Randy’s take on STUNT: I’m not a big fan. If this becomes an Olympic sport and/or NCAA starts riding the train, there will then be scholarship opportunities, as well as possible Olympic hopefuls—all of which outshines the benefits of all-star cheerleading. If STUNT is suddenly the way to get scholarships and cheerleading as we know it goes away at the college level, what’s the next step after a kid graduates high school? High school cheerleading will follow what the NCAA does. The minute that STUNT gets mainstream NCAA [status], high schools will segue over to [that format]. I really believe as soon as that happens, it will open the door for gym owners to take a backseat.

On dual participation: As a gym owner, I personally think that STUNT definitely could pull kids from all-star. Depending on when the STUNT season takes place and how it interlaces itself with the existing cheer season, it could greatly affect dual participation. If a child cheers on their school team, that’s an 11-month commitment in many cases. Many schools already have a stigma about letting kids do all-stars in the same season; this opens the door for more coaches who don’t understand the value of all-star cheer.

On its impact on all-star: I know a lot of choreographers are very concerned about the whole STUNT idea because it could become compulsory over time, and if the competitive aspect of the 2:30 routine goes away, then there is no longer a need for choreographers. I know there is also concern on the music mixer side because they could also give out compulsory music, which would negate the need for original music. I know there are people on different sides that are nervous about it. Whether or not those are legitimate concerns or just people being worried, I’m not sure, but I do know that there are people who are scared of those types of things going on.

About STUNT’s relationship to the Olympics: I believe that there is a push from somewhere trying to get cheerleading in the Olympics, and I believe that it’s a race to see who will the biggest and baddest. Gymnastics and cheer have been going head-to-head for many, many years. If cheer were to become an Olympic sport, there are powers that be [in the cheer industry] that want it to be in their control and not gymnastics’ control.

However, gymnastics has more clout than cheerleading, and they are only going to allow cheer in the Olympics if it doesn’t compete with its sports. Therefore [the Olympic version of cheer] has to look completely different than gymnastics—hence the motivation for STUNT.

To me, the tumbling [in all-star cheer] is already very diminished. There is a huge drive even in international competitions to dumb down the values for tumbling. There has been talk of eliminating the tumbling skills for safety reasons, but sometimes you wonder if it is to help fall in line with the demands of what would create a conflict for gymnastics.

99.9% of our income is off tumbling classes, and when you make rules that dumb down tumbling, you’re affecting my income. When you do that to high school, it’s not affecting their income. Your rules can greatly affect someone’s paycheck. I always look at things from a business aspect and make sure the future is bright enough to keep the lights on.

The bottom line: I don’t believe that the all-star/competitive cheer [industry] for high schools has finished evolving yet. I’m a big fan of it and I don’t want to see anything take away from that. All-star cheer is my life, it’s kept me in business for [xx] years and I don’t think it needs something to take away from it.

Just like gymnastics would be nervous about cheer overpowering it in the Olympics or taking away participation in the lower levels, I believe STUNT could take away from all-stars. We already have to share our kids with football, basketball, school cheerleading—now there is one more thing to pull them in a different direction.

I love all-star cheerleading the way it is, so these are my concerns. Anything that could change that in any way, shape or form would make any business owner nervous about the unknown.  However, I do support all types of cheer, and I will support STUNT—I’m just not excited about having sport to compete with the all-star world.

Kim Gaskin, President of New Jersey State Coaches Association and Head Coach for Burlington Township High School

Kim’s take on STUNT: The value of STUNT as it continues to grow will show that there are requirements that every great cheer team should know how to master. Those requirements are then benchmarked and put in a routine where each team has to do the same skills. In a normal [all-star] competition, every team has an opportunity to be as creative as they wish. [In contrast], STUNT allows teams to be matched up on the same skill; it does have a little creativity, but not as much complexity as a choreographed routine. It goes to the baseline of what makes great athleticism in cheerleading. I think judging our athletes on their tumbling skills, basket tosses, pyramids and partner stunts really is kind of fun for participants because they are measured on the same routine. STUNT is new, it’s evolving and it will find its place.

On dual participation: All coaches have an opportunity to determine whether they want to participate and make it part of their curriculum, as they would with any competition they choose to attend. I don’t see lines of division yet as opposed to an appreciation for the value of what STUNT can do both on college and high school level. Some of the elements of STUNT are basic skills that will get you to the more elite skills that will put you in national competition. The same cheerleaders who are on your cheer team can participate in a STUNT event. Coaches have to look at their program and decide what’s best as far as how STUNT fits into their overall competition [plan].

About STUNT’s impact on all-star: When you look at high school, all-star and college cheer, not only do you see the element of competition, but also a lot of creativity as well. STUNT was developed for a different purpose than to hurt any of those functions. Title IX is a positive way of recognizing athletes, and we need to find ways that we can align ourselves with any regulations that can benefit our athletes. This kind of venture doesn’t really take away [from other types of cheerleading], but continues to create value. Anyone who is a coach or cheerleader knows that our athletes are hard-working, dedicated and great leaders in the schools they represent; being able to allow them to get some of the financial benefits or recognition [that other sports enjoy] would be amazing progress.

About STUNT’s relationship to the Olympics: Right now, Worlds is really the hub of cheerleading around the world. The beautiful part of Worlds is that you see teams not only show great athleticism, but also bring a part of their country to the mat. Whether the team is from Mexico or Thailand or Jamaica, you see the diversity of the athlete. Because STUNT is so new, it could evolve to [that level], but you’re still talking about two different buckets—due to the technical aspects of what makes a great Worlds champion versus what makes a great STUNT champion. As cheer evolves, we have to be open to allowing these organizations and companies to get it right. Sometimes things aren’t perfect, but at the end of the day, the athletes are the ones who benefit. These are big platforms that allow cheerleaders to go out there and prove to the world that we are taking cheerleading to a whole new level.

The bottom line: I am an advocate of great cheerleading. Whether it’s high school, all-star or college, our job as an industry is to represent cheer in a way that’s positive and helpful for every athlete. The choice of which way an athlete decides to endure cheerleading is up to that person. There are so many kids out there—just look at the feeder and rec programs around the country trying to get kids interested in cheer and get them on that journey. For those that stick to it, we all need to encourage the kids filtering into our sport, rather than debating who is taking athletes away from whom. I’m not really one to take sides, but I’m all for anything we do as an industry that elevates our kids from both athletic and Title IX requirements, and I think everyone should think of it that way.

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.”