Two Sides: At-Large Bids

Two Sides: At-Large Bids

Are too many at-large bids being given to The Cheerleading Worlds? CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.

More teams than ever are making the annual pilgrimage to compete at the Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, and the packed stands this year were a testament to its soaring popularity. Yet some cheer professionals are questioning whether too many at-large bids are being given out to the event—resulting in scheduling issues, overcrowded venues and a perceived loss of prestige. We spoke with Capital Elite’s Debbie Sprague and New Jersey Spirit Explosion’s Theapia Best to learn more about their opposing perspectives.

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

Debbie Sprague, Owner, Capital Elite All-Stars

Debbie’s take: In my opinion, the number of at-large bids given shouldn’t be restricted. I think at-large bids reward the small gym teams and athletes who work hard to get to level 5. Most small gyms like mine aren’t trying to go to Worlds to win or even place top 10 (at least for right now). We just want our athletes to be exposed to the best of the best—it inspires them and gives them goals.  I’ve heard that some people think that all the Level 5 teams out there are going, and I know they’re not.

Her program’s Worlds background: My team was Senior Restricted for most of the year, and we gave a Worlds bid one shot in March at One UP. We got an at-large bid, and it was our first time going Senior 5. At Worlds, we were very happy to hit our routine on the floor, and it was an incredible experience for these kids and myself.

[Once we got back], our teams were like rock stars, and it really helped grow the industry here in Springfield. We had our local TV station do a 30-minute segment and there was also newspaper coverage. We got a lot of athletes from outside our area—I was shocked at the number of kids that turned out for tryouts.

On the ripple effect the amount of at-large bids has on the industry: USASF has to have the income from the small gyms to hold such an amazing event. If the small gyms couldn’t get bids, then there wouldn’t be as many paid and partial paid bids for the bigger gyms. That’s the trickle-down effect.

Also, the audience for Worlds grows because of small gyms like ours. My aunts and uncles now want the ESPN airdates—these are people over 60 who would never be interested if I hadn’t taken my team to Worlds! And the list goes on and on. That helps our sport grow; you have to have a viewing audience to be successful.

On how it affects the prestige level: I think [having more bids] has made Worlds even more prestigious. The top teams we all thrive to watch are getting better and better every year, and all of the small gyms help feed the excitement for the big gyms.

I even buy Cheer Extreme, Top Gun and World Cup apparel to use as training incentives in my gym. I have given away T-shirts that they can earn for skills like standing full, double full, etc. It’s amazing how hard kids will work for them.

If Worlds was just the top three teams in the country, I wouldn’t pay to travel and attend. The whole excitement is in trying to get the bid, be on the floor and be in the atmosphere of so many great teams. If our teams weren’t going to Worlds, what would we be working for? There always has to be an angle. Gymnasts work toward the Olympics, and this is our far-reaching goal. It keeps us going.

On perceived schedule/overcrowding issues: I think that Worlds definitely needs more seating or a bigger venue. However, with a packed arena, it’s really nice for those upper-level teams who come out to a screaming crowd. It’s just awesome and makes them feel good for all the work that they do.

On possible solutions: I disagree with co-ed and all-girl teams having to compete against each other for bids, since we don’t compete against each other on the floor. If you want to get the best of the best there, limit the bids to a certain amount of both all-girl and co-ed teams.

The bottom line: Cutting at-large bids means less revenue and we all know USASF needs money. Who cares if there are lower Level 5 teams there as long as kids aren’t getting hurt? Not everyone will be as good as CEA, Top Gun and Cali. We love those teams and that’s who we look up to and learn from.

Again, we didn’t go to win or even place top 10—we went for the experience. My kids loved the chance to walk on that same floor as the best. It inspired them, it changed the way we practice, it changed the way my younger teams work at practice. It changed the way I coached and the way we look at our athletes before placing them on any team! We’ve learned so much.

Theapia Best, Owner, New Jersey Spirit Explosion

Theapia’s take: As Worlds has evolved and more companies have gotten bids [to give out] in the last three to four years, I think that all level 5 teams just assume they will compete at Worlds at this point. There are so many bids that, by the end of the season, even last place teams are awarded at-large bids. I can’t even think of a Level 5 team in NJ that didn’t get to go to Worlds last year—it seemed like every team in the state got to go. The issue this creates is that it makes attending the event more of a level 5 right than a privilege.

Her program’s Worlds background: We have three Worlds teams, and we’ve attended the event at least seven or eight times. I think we only missed it the first two years, and we’ve gone on full paid bids every year. Last year was the first time we ever sent a team without a paid bid (our international team); this year, all three teams got paid bids.

On the ripple effect the amount of at-large bids has on the industry: Worlds has definitely increased the event size of all competitions that give out bids. Teams travel for World bids, not just for trophies anymore. When you plan your schedule [as a coach or gym owner], you plan it around competitions that are giving Worlds bids; before, it was determined more by what was convenient date-wise. Now when there are events that don’t give bids, many teams don’t even go because there is no opportunity to secure a bid. What’s the point? They’re saving their money to try to secure a Worlds bid.

On perceived schedule/overcrowding issues: The biggest issue this creates is overcrowding at the event. So many of the parents stress out about getting up early to go get in line. I think [USASF] thought that decreasing the number of teams that make it to finals would also decrease seating/capacity issues, but it actually made it worse. All of the kids at Worlds love cheerleading, so if they’re not competing, they’re getting up and going to watch—whereas if they were able to compete, they wouldn’t be able to do that.

On whether Worlds still holds the same prestige: The first few years of the Cheerleading Worlds, the bids were so exclusive that only the best of the best were invited. Now that things are different, I can actually see it both ways. There are some smaller gyms that are not going to Worlds to win, and I can see them getting more customers who are interested in being on Worlds teams. If it became so exclusive that everyone wouldn’t have an opportunity to go, then those gyms wouldn’t exist and our sport wouldn’t be growing.

On the other hand, I do feel it could be a bit more exclusive, so that teams that are Senior Restricted or Senior Level 4 but going Level 5 for just one competition aren’t getting bids.

On possible solutions: I can’t come up with a solution without knowing the true intent of the Worlds competition. Ultimately, it needs to be decided: what is the goal of Worlds? Is it the right of  every Level 5 team to be represented?

If so, it needs to not be so difficult to make finals. Teams spend so much money to go, and they only take 10 teams to finals when there are twice that amount of great teams. The divisions go on for so long—do the judges get it right the first day? The division starts at 10 am and goes until 4 pm, and they’re only taking 10 teams to finals. What are the chances those teams are ranked correctly for a division that’s been going on for six hours?

Some [cheer professionals] have proposed the idea of regionalizing the bids, but the regions all have different divisions, so it would be hard to do that. Also, some regions have great teams, and some regions have very weak teams. You wouldn’t get a good representation of what the true best programs are, which is what Worlds is supposed to be.

The bottom line: Is the intent for all Level 5 teams to be represented? If so, then they need increase the number of teams by percentage that make finals. If the intent is to make the teams feel like being invited is a privilege, then they need to decrease the number of at large-bids given so earning a bid becomes a big deal in itself.


Going for the Gold: 10 Years of Worlds Winners!

Going for the Gold: 10 Years of Worlds Winners!

This month marks the 10th annual Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Florida—the countdown begins! Get prepped by taking a look back at the gold medalists in each division since the beginning. (We’re looking forward to filling in the blanks for 2013.) Check out the wonderful wide world of worlds, and don’t miss our 10-year retrospective in the summer issue of CheerProfessional!


Senior All-Girl: Cheer Athletics

Senior Coed: Miami Elite



Small Senior: Stingray All-Stars

Small Senior Coed: Spirit of Texas

Large Senior: Maryland Twisters – F5

Large Senior Coed: Miami Elite



Small Senior: Cheer Athletics – Jags

Large Senior: Cheer Athletics – Panthers

Small Senior Coed: Gym Tyme All Stars

Large Senior Coed: Cheer Athletics – Wildcats

International Open All-Girl: Georgia All Stars

International Coed: Gym Tyme All Stars



Small Senior: Stingray All-Stars

Large Senior: World Cup Shooting Stars

Small Senior Coed: Gym Tyme All Stars

Large Senior Coed: Top Gun

International Junior: World Cup – Starlites

International Junior Coed: Flip Factory

International Open All Girl: Encore Cheer Company

International Coed: Gym Tyme All Stars



Small Senior All-Girl: Stingray All-Stars

Large Senior All-Girl: World Cup Shooting Stars

Senior Unlimited Coed: Top Gun

Large Senior Unlimited Coed: Spirit of Texas

International Junior All Girl 5: World Cup – Starlites

International Junior Coed 5: University Cheer Junior Air Force

Small International Open All Girl: Cheer Athletics Fierce Katz

Large International Open All Girl 5: South Elite Allstars

Small International Open Coed 5: Cheer Athletics Pumas

Large International Open Coed 5: Gym Tyme All Stars

International Open Coed 6: Stingray All-Stars

International Open All Girl 6: PACE Phoenix Allstars



Small Senior All-Girl: Stingray All-Stars

Large Senior All-Girl: World Cup Shooting Stars

Senior Unlimited Coed: California All Stars

Large Senior Limited Coed: Spirit of Texas

Small Senior Limited Coed: Brandon All Stars

International Junior: Maryland Twisters Supercells

International Junior Coed: Cheer Athletics Jags

International Coed 5: Cheer Athletics Wildcats

International All Girl 5: Cheer Athletics FierceKatz

International Coed 6: Gym Tyme All Stars

International All Girl 6: UPAC Miss Panthers (Chile)



Small Senior All-Girl: Stingray All-Stars

Small Senior Limited Coed: Premier Athletics Kentucky Elite

Large Senior All-Girl: Cheer Extreme

Large Senior Limited Coed: Spirit of Texas

Large Senior Semi-Limited Coed: Georgia All-Stars

Senior Unlimited Coed: Top Gun All Stars

International Junior All-Girl 5: Maryland Twisters Supercells

International Junior Coed 5: California All Stars

International Open All-Girl 5: Gym Tyme – Pink

International Open Coed 5: Top Gun All Stars

International Open All Girl 6: Gym Tyme All Stars – Orange

International Open Coed 6: Gym Tyme – Infinity



Small Senior All-Girl: Cheer Athletics – Panthers

Large Senior All-Girl: Maryland Twisters – F5

Small Senior Limited: Brandon All Stars – Senior Black

Large Senior Limited Coed: Twist and Shout – Senior Obsession

Large Senior Semi-Limited Coed: ACE Warriors

Senior Unlimited Coed: California All Stars

International Open All-Girl 5: Gym Tyme – Pink

International Open Coed 5: Top Gun All Stars

International Open Coed 6: Bangkok University (Thailand); Gym Tyme – Nfinity



Senior Large Coed: Cheer Athletics – Cheetahs

Small Senior All-Girl: Stingray All-Stars – Orange

Senior Large All-Girl: Cheer Extreme Senior Elite

Senior Medium Coed: Spirit of Texas

Senior Small Coed Level 5: California All Stars – Smoed

International Open Coed Level 5: Gym Tyme All Stars – Black

International Coed Level 6: Twist & Shout – Genesis

International Open All-Girl Level 5: Gym Tyme All Stars/Louisville Cheer & Dance Inc.

International Open All-Girl Level 6: Cheer Athletics – Lady Katz

Guest Post: The Epic Brands Road to Worlds

Guest Post: The Epic Brands Road to Worlds

What does it take to make it to the Cheerleading Worlds each year? From tryouts to the final flight of the season in Orlando, FL, we got the scoop from a few EPIC coaches that are headed to the 2013 Cheerleading Worlds: Fame Super Seniors Coach Phil Logan and Pro Athletics Coach Jason Graham.

The first look at what the new season might have in store for your Senior Level 5 team starts at the summer tryout. This is the first time you have all your returning veterans, new athletes and those athletes that are ready to take the next step to being on a level 5 team. As a coach, keeping in mind that all your teams are just as important, making the decision of which athletes make up each team is the first battle. There are some tough decisions, but there’s a reason why you’ve been given this decision to make—and these decisions play a key role in determining if your teams can grab the coveted Worlds bid.

First time on the floor
As a coach, this is the first time you get to see if the team you picked might have what it takes to be a 2013 World Champion. As an athlete, the pressure starts here. Not only to impress your coach and keep your last tumbling spot, but also knowing that your video will go global in a matter of minutes. The pressure then swings to the coach.  After seeing how your athletes stack up, you are now in control of your team’s health, positive attitude and getting them to the right event with the right bids.

The Paid Bid
Not only do you have to win a bid to Worlds, you also want to win the bid that pays for everything! Talk about a happy parent that does not have to pay a dollar for their athlete to compete! Picking the right event to win a bid is sometimes just as tough as picking your uniform. As a coach, you want to go for a paid-bid, but know these are limitedly given throughout the season.

Going for Gold
Over 10 months, you practice to win a bid, win a bid, practice to win Worlds and then win Worlds. It is the yearly cycle of a World bound team—from the exciting new Worlds sports bras to the craziest superstitions picked up along the way. You have created a bond between 20 to 36 completely different cheerleaders. The excitement of flying as a team, practicing outside in the Florida sun and competing in a packed arena at the Wide World of Sports adds up to be the most impactful weekend of these athletes’ lives. They will remember that road to Worlds for the rest of their lives…or at least until the following season, when they do it all over again.

-Season Daugherty

Spotlight: Courtney Smith-Pope

Spotlight: Courtney Smith-Pope

Anyone who encounters Cheer Extreme All-Stars’ Courtney Smith-Pope need not wonder where she gets her effervescent passion for the sport—after all, it’s all in the family. Her mom and co-founder, Betsy, acts as the financial and admin guru for all 9 CEA locations around North Carolina, while her sister, Kelly, oversees its Raleigh and Greenville locations. She first met her husband of 10 years, Ben Pope, back when he owned a Premier Athletics gym in Asheville—today he runs CEA’s Winston-Salem location and coaches tumbling and stunting, while their two daughters cheer at the Kernersville location (which Smith-Pope calls “the mothership” of the operation).

And at the center of it all is Smith-Pope, the feisty nucleus that acts as the face and creative force behind CEA. Named USASF’s “Coach of the Year” in 2009, Smith-Pope has brought CEA to international recognition—with her teams taking home gold medals from Worlds in 2010 and 2012. “People buy our T-shirts from 62 different countries from my mom’s little store—orders come in from Seoul, Singapore, South America and Canada,” shares Smith-Pope.

Part of the program’s notoriety comes from Smith-Pope’s considerable social media presence—she has amassed more than 6,300 Twitter followers and partners with online channels like CheerLIVE to air the annual CEA showcase. (Her Facebook photo is a close-up of her eye with the CEA logo imposed.) “Jeff Webb told me I had a social media addiction—to which I responded that he needed to get with the program,” she laughs. “I’m not personally visible in our 9 locations every day and that’s the way kids who cheer for me can contact me. We’re lucky that the Internet provides that visibility and [opportunity for] commentary; it’s important to have a great image virally.”

Pope and her sister Kelly Smith

Though CEA is now considered one of the industry’s premier programs, it stems from somewhat humble beginnings. Smith-Pope originally aspired to be a gymnast, but fell in love with cheerleading in middle school. When her sister wanted to follow in her cheering footsteps but couldn’t find a team, Smith-Pope and her mom decided to start a recreational league. “Soon 20 of the best rec kids were paying $5 apiece to practice in our backyard,” she remembers. “That was in 1993 and I was 14.”

By the time Smith-Pope was cheering at Wake Forest University, the newly minted all-star program was practicing out of a gymnastics facility—she traveled home to be there every Sunday throughout college. As a biology major, Smith was poised to enter medical school, but true to form, cheer intervened. “We had 80 kids going into the last tryout before I took the MCAT, and 150 kids showed up [to try out],” Smith-Pope remembers. “With each of them paying $10/practice, I decided to make a go of it.”

As CEA has grown over the years, the self-described “cheer fanatic” has kept that homegrown mentality—and partly attributes it to the program’s success. “Being so young, I got to watch a lot of people make a lot of mistakes, like building a facility you can’t support,” she shares. “I saw a lot of people go out of business who were working just to make rent. In the model we have, we’ve never not made a profit—everything we do is related to the number of kids we have.”

This translates into a business model in which many of CEA’s locations are based inside gymnastics facilities (the two entities split the tuition, with CEA providing staff and running the program in exchange for space); Pope-Smith then pays her employees per athlete coached. “They work for retention, not by the hour,” she says. “Everyone gets to feel like their own boss that way and see the effects of their hard work.”

Riding the momentum is another key to CEA’s longevity. On the heels of last year’s Worlds win, Smith-Pope recently opened a new location in Charlotte and has surpassed the 1,000 athlete mark across all locations. She’s also in the public cheer eye thanks to her outspoken co-leadership of the All-Star Gym Association, which she helped start in 2008 but blew up in membership and visibility last year. It’s all part of Smith-Pope’s bigger mission to spread her love for the sport: “I hope to inspire new entrepreneurial event producers and new ideas—people coming into the industry with passion and love,” she says. “We’re all part of a rising tide. It’s time for a return to the optimism that inspired [this industry’s] growth in the 90s.”

With Smith-Pope at the helm, anything is possible.

Guest Post: Are We Taking The Cheer Out of Cheerleading?

Guest Post: Are We Taking The Cheer Out of Cheerleading?

If you’ve been listening to the buzz around the parent viewing rooms at your gym, you’re sure to know that USASF recently released its Worlds packet for 2013. I was surprised to see the addition of “Section V – Athlete Behavior” to the rules and regulations. When I was reading part A, subsection c of this new rule, it made me a little bit sad for the athletes competing this year. No more high fives, team rituals, running out and hugging coaches. No more collapsing on the mat at the end of the performance. No “displays of public affection.” There is some bite behind this rule: any violation can be a 2-, 4- or 6-point deduction.

So why? I asked quite a few people that went last year and I read a bit of the buzz on the Internet about their thoughts. Everyone agreed that time is an issue at Worlds. Teams need to get on and off the performance area in a timely manner to keep things running on schedule. But wouldn’t any delay caused by excessive celebration already be penalized under Section V, part A, subsection a where teams get 30 seconds to enter and 30 seconds to leave the floor? If a team can get off of the performance floor within 30 seconds, should they be penalized if they do so while hugging or holding hands? I started wondering—are we taking the cheer out of cheerleading? It’s the marriage of elite tumbling, gravity-defying stunts and beautifully choreographed dance held by the glue of energy and exuberance that draws so many to this sport. Are the rule changes slowly chipping away at what we love about cheer, or are they necessary steps in the growth of the sport?

First came last spring’s rules change bombshell: Difficulty restrictions, uniform regulations and the unfortunate singling out of the “flamboyant ” male cheerleader (which, thankfully, was removed). And now—no excessive celebrations. It reminds me of the rules put into place by the NFL starting in the 1990s into the 2000s. Coaches, fans and players agreed that some celebrations were out of hand (does anyone remember Chad Johnson performing CPR on the football?), lots of fans complained and said the player celebrations helped to make the players more energized and the game more entertaining. The league eventually found a compromise and today Gronkowski of the Patriots gets his big spike, New York’s Victor Cruz gets to salsa and everyone in Green Bay loves the Lambeau leap. Hopefully the USASF will come to the same conclusion and allow a bit of celebration.

For many athletes, Worlds is the culmination of years of hardwork and dedication. If it all comes together for you and you’re flawless for two minutes and thirty seconds—shouldn’t you be allowed a fist-bump, a hug or a couple of high fives?

This post originally appeared on our partner website Cheer Parents Central.