Cheer Professional / Spring 2016

Page 1

CAMERA READY: Look through the lens of gym owners who’ve installed cameras. PAGE 26

FAME All Stars PAGE 10


Billy Smith Spirit Celebration and Amazing! Championships

Kelly Makay Co-Owner at HotCheer All Stars

Mandi Spina Cheer Fusion



justin carrier PAGE 8

SPRING 2016 Volume 4, Number 2

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THE COMMUNITY 6 Editor’s Letter


INDUSTRY INSIDER 8 Spotlight: Justin Carrier 10 Spotlight: FAME All Stars




Game Changers: Utah Peak Academy


Candid Coach: Kelly Smith Helton


State of the Union

20 As Seen On TV 26 Installing Cameras 29 Sexual Allegations 34 Recognizing Parents


36 Owner’s Manual: Tara Wieland

40 Transgender Athletes 42 Cyberbullying

38 Power Tumbling



Spotlight On: Justin Carrier


Get a glimpse into the life of Justin Carrier





D o y o u h av e w h at i t ta k e s t o b e t h e n e x t

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Greetings, CheerProfessional readers! Spring has sprung—can you feel the energy? With the dawn of the D2 Summit, Jam Brands joining forces with Varsity, and USASF’s National Advisory Board adding new members, change is certainly in the air, and we’re excited to explore all of the progress happening in our industry. Our annual “State of the Union” roundtable does just that— tackling topics like crossover rules, USASF mandates, all-star prep and more. Hear what top cheer pros like Spirit Celebration’s Billy Smith, HotCheer’s Kelly Makay and Cheer Fusion’s Mandi Spina have to say about all things industry-related on page 16. And speaking of top industry names, this issue’s Spotlight section is chock-full of them. Get to know Varsity’s charismatic Justin Carrier on page 8, and see what a “Day in the Life” is like on page 44. We’re also profiling FAME All Stars on page 10 and interviewing Cheer Extreme coach Kelly Helton on page 15. (Spoiler alert: Helton shares the inside scoop on all the creative ways she keeps her athletes motivated.) We’re also going in-depth to explore issues that directly affect our athletes. See how you can help create an inclusive environment for transgender athletes on page 40, and find out how to combat the cyberbullying epidemic among athletes on page 42. Looking for new ways to generate income for your gym? Get inspired by Michigan Storm’s Tara Wieland, who opened a highly lucrative trampoline park just down the street from her allstar cheer gym. She tells her story on page 36 in our “Owner’s Manual,” and we also delve further into the power tumbling and trampoline trend on page 38. If it’s publicity/buzz you’re seeking, check out our “As Seen on TV” feature on page 20. We chat with the owners of Central Jersey Allstars, World Cup and South Bay Cheer 360 about their gym’s turns in the spotlight, what life was like in front of the lens and what they took away from the experience. Other topics we’re covering in this issue: protecting your gym against sexual allegations, installing cameras, planning unique uniform reveals and so much more. Remember: the conversation doesn’t stop here—come join us on Facebook, Twitter (@ cheerproco) or at our website: The cheer industry is on the move 24/7…and we don’t want to miss a beat! Cheers, Jen

Jen Jones Donatelli

Managing Editor Assistant Editor Copy Editor Editorial Contributors

Web Developer Art Director

Sales Coordinator Database Manager Research Manager Office Services Coordinator Publisher Sr. Publishing Consultant

Jen Jones Donatelli Stephanie Moss Topher Christianson Lisa Beebe, Renee Camus, Britni de la Cretaz, Dina Gachman, Christina Hernandez, Arrissia Owen, Nicole Pajer, Carmen Rodriguez, Alicia Thompson Ben Phillips Matt Call

Paul Lancia Ben Phillips Jake Owen Hope Chanda Chris Quarles Helen Cohen

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justin carrier by Britni de la Cretaz

Whether backstage at NCA or behind the keyboard on Twitter, Justin Carrier is one of the industry’s biggest movers and shakers. Every February, thousands of all-star athletes, coaches, families, and cheer aficionados descend on Dallas for one of the industry’s most prestigious competitions: NCA All-Star Nationals. And at the center of the action is Justin Carrier, one of the event’s familiar faces and driving forces.

his appeal. Sprinkled among quips about cheerleading and funny one-liners about politics are pictures of Carrier and his family, photos of him posing with athletes at the many competitions he attends (“I travel a lot,” he admits) and an enthusiasm for the sport that is matched by few.

But he’s quick not to take all the credit for this monster event, and his humility is something that becomes readily apparent after speaking to him for even a few minutes. “With an event of this magnitude, it’s impossible for a single person to own every aspect,” says Carrier. ““Planning for Nationals starts a year in advance; we have great people in charge of different areas.”

Carrier, Vice President of Varsity All Star and NCA/NDA, knows the sport better than almost anyone else. And he should—he’s been engrossed in the industry for most of his life. “I did all-star in high school, and I cheered for Alief Elsik High School during my senior year,” he shares from his office in Dallas. “I was mascot my junior year, but I kept taking off my Ram head so I could stunt.” Carrier went on to cheer at the University of North Texas in college.

It’s easy to see why Carrier is one of the most well-liked people in cheerleading, and one look at his Twitter profile—where he has over 9,000 followers—confirms

Carrier explains that, right out of high school, he worked for NCA as a summer camp instructor, and, after college, transferred to their corporate office. “I


was a coach at Cheer Athletics, and when Varsity merged with NCA and we ramped up our All-Star Initiative, I moved from summer camps to competitions,” he says. The rest, as they say, is history. Varsity’s All-Star Initiative began back in 2008, and Carrier has been VP since its inception. In his role, he’s helped to shape the evolution of the sport of cheerleading, with a job that includes a variety of tasks. “From the NCA and NDA side, I oversee events and championships,” Carrier shares. “I also oversee judging and scoring over all the Varsity brands.” True to form, he’s being somewhat modest when he uses the word “oversee” to describe his role in judging and scoring. Carrier is one of the creators of the Varsity All-Star Scoring System, which has, in many ways, moved the sport forward. “When I coached, there were several sets of safety rules, varying by competition.


This scoring system has brought about what Carrier sees as one of the biggest changes he’s witnessed in the sport since he began cheering many years ago: “In the All-Star space, there has been tremendous growth and standardization. I see a lot of players making decisions for the betterment of the sport and the industry—as opposed to just their own competition or gym.” And while Carrier is helping to revolutionize the sport itself, he’s also helping to change the culture we live in for the young athletes coming up in the

sport today. Part of how he’s doing that comes back to his Twitter profile and his social media presence. He enjoys using Twitter to connect with athletes he may otherwise be removed from during his day-to-day role as Varsity’s VP. “I don’t get to work with kids every day like coaches do, so it’s been great for keeping a line of communication open with athletes,” he explains. But it goes just beyond connecting with youth. Carrier is also—just by virtue of being who he is in the public sphere— setting an example of what is possible for the next generation. “As a gay man who started a family, I recognize that there aren’t a lot of examples out there for the younger generation of my lifestyle,” Carrier reflects. “I’ve received a lot of affirmation from younger athletes who didn’t know the path I took was even possible until they saw me take it.” Carrier is someone who is passionate about his work at every level, and it shows. He says his favorite part of his job

is working with coaches and athletes who are passionate about the industry. But, he adds, “That’s everyone! It’s a unique environment, where everyone does what they love.” He recognizes that not everyone is lucky enough to wake up every day and go to a job they love, working alongside people who are equally happy to be there. “I’m surrounded by people who are passionate about what they do, who are as passionate as I am,” Carrier says. “It doesn’t feel like work; I wake up and can’t wait to get to the office to start my day.”

Check out our “Day in the Life” story on page 44 to see what Justin’s day is like!

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Event producers didn’t work together on anything,” Carrier explains. Varsity’s scoring system, which is updated every year and has been adopted by many other event producers, seeks to streamline and standardize the sport by creating a system that meets everybody’s needs. Adds Carrier, “It came out of a demand from coaches that they were tired of competing with different score sheets from week to week.”




FAME GAME by Nicole Pajer

Between going global with a new overseas location and upping their competitive game, FAME All Stars is a true force on the all-star cheer scene. Every night, the same chant can be heard across FAME All Stars’ eight locations: “I believe in me. I believe in you. I believe in us. I believe in FAME!” It’s the same wording that the gym’s athletes have used to close out practices for the past 12 years—and a living testament to the “family first” mentality behind the thriving all-star program.

FAME initially formed in 2004 when Andrea Cassevah, Phil Logan and Melvin Farland came together to fulfill their dream of opening a gym. The trio launched a Virginia Beach location and, from there, the brand took off. “We had a really successful first season,” says Cassevah. “It was right when all-star [cheer] was becoming big. We caught a good time and created a lot of hype with our gym.”


From there, the brand merged with a gym in Richmond. The expansion continued, landing FAME in five Virginia locations, along with Outer Banks, North Carolina and Rochester, New York. Then, last season, the brand went global when they opened a branch overseas. The opportunity arose after the staff traveled abroad to do choreography for a United Kingdom team, and things blossomed from there. “They



decided they wanted to start their own gym with us,” says Cassevah. It ended up being a great move for the cofounders, who are thrilled to have a part in helping all-star cheer progress in the United Kingdom. “It’s really cool when we go over there and they’re so excited to show us everything they are working on,” says Logan. “They are like a sponge absorbing everything that you say.” But running an international location doesn’t come without challenges: Logan reveals that the FAME staff only makes it over to the UK several times a year. In addition, things like mailing uniforms overseas can be tricky. “Everything has to go through customs; it’s a little slower,” Logan notes. “If we come up with a great idea here, I can have it to my [domestic] parents in three or four days, but it takes a couple of weeks to get it over there.” To keep the UK program informed, the co-founders keep in touch via Facebook and group chats, which Logan calls “a fun challenge.” Making sure the UK contingent stays in the loop isn’t just protocol, but part of the FAME philosophy. The owners attribute much of their success to dedicating equal attention to all of their teams. “[No matter

what], you are going to be treated as our top Worlds team—the same practice, the same attention,” says Cassevah. “We spread out and make sure that our coaches focus on every single level and that every single level feels important.” Currently, FAME is laser-focused on nailing down routines and eliminating deductions. They’ve even started a program where the coaches hand out “Club Zero” bracelets to teams that make it through a routine with no deductions. “Part of that is instilling that our goal is to do our best,” says Logan. “Sometimes our best is good enough to get a win. But we want to recognize that when you hit zero, you’ve done everything we’ve asked.” The approach is an effective one—FAME athletes get energized and excited about racking up bracelets. It’s part of an overall effort to increase the gym’s competitive presence across the board. “Right now, we are focusing on getting all of our routines as clean as possible,” continues Logan. “We’re pretty competitive in the higher levels, but we’re trying to get competitive on every level—from the bottom to the top.”

meet popular demand, FAME has also recently started hosting flying classes as well. “Everyone in the gym seems like they want to be a flyer,” he adds. “We give them an opportunity to train to do that, whether it’s a beginning flyer or those athletes framing their skills so they can make a higher-level team.” Most of all, FAME’s co-founders believe it’s the gym’s family-focused attitude that makes the program stand out. “We always call it ‘FAME-ILY,’” says Cassevah. “If you walk into our gyms, you see our coaches holding people’s babies. We want the kids around for a long time, from barely walking until they graduate. And, as we add gyms and kids to our family, I hope they feel that, too.”

Beyond the all-star realm, one of the program’s more lucrative endeavors has been its tumbling classes and teams. To SPRING 2016 PAGE 11 WWW.THECHEERPROFESSIONAL.COM



T S I F Place by Arrissia Owen Turner

Fueled by the “power of the fist,” Utah Peak Academy Cheer focuses on teamwork and togetherness. After her first year in the all-star gym business, Utah Peak Academy Cheer owner Emily Matheson searched for a way to make her gym stand out and help shape its identity. She ended up drawing from one of the tenets of her husband Ben’s coaching style: motto as motivation.

In his role as boys’ basketball coach at Brighton High School, Ben energizes his players by continually reinforcing the team’s motto “Together as One.” The saying draws heavily from a book both of the Mathesons are influenced by, Beyond Basketball: Coach K’s Keywords for Success, written by Duke University’s


men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. Matheson came up with a similar battle cry for UPA that rallies around the power of the fist. “Without one finger, the fist is not as strong,” she says. “So for us, it is all about teamwork.” The philosophy breaks down to five P’s, one for each finger: poise,


The fist has become the gym’s symbol, gracing their teams’ T-shirts and uniforms at competitions and community events. A voiceover espousing the fist’s merits features prominently in all of the teams’ routines, saying “Together as One with the Power of the Fist—UPA…The Best Looks Like This!” “They love it,” she says of the branding’s effect on her gym reputation. “People know us for the fist.” But the gym’s motto wasn’t an instant hit with everyone. Detractors emailed Matheson unsolicited feedback about the fist and its powers to stoke the imagination, ranging from the tawdry inference to accusations of white power sentiments. One even called the fist a bit “cocky.” Undeterred, Matheson did not go all jazz hands because of a few haters. The impact of the visual is too powerful, fueling dedication and drive among the competitive and recreational athletes who come through the gym’s doors. It bonds them in a unique way that reinforces the gym’s five P’s. The fourth P, passion, is something that Matheson knows plenty about. After years spent coaching cheer at her alma mater (the same school where her husband now coaches basketball), she decided to pursue all-star cheer in 2005—despite not many Utahans knowing what it was. She had only witnessed the phenomena while traveling back East with her high school cheerleaders for competitions.

Matheson was hooked. “I just loved the sport’s competitive side, the athleticism,” she says. “And I knew I could do so much more as a coach.” She jumped in, quitting her job at the school to start teaching classes in rented space at the local gymnastics center, which she outgrew within a year. Matheson’s admiration for the sport’s energy was infectious. By 2007, UPA Cheer was making a name for itself at competitions. The gym’s numbers have grown every year since with more than 170 all-stars currently on the roster (220 athletes total counting recreational athletes). The gym’s swift success gave Matheson the confidence to try a couple of out-ofthe-box ideas when people approached her with creative uses for her space. Having grown up dancing prior to cheering, she didn’t hesitate to open her doors to an aspiring breakdance instructor with background dancer credits on music videos and movies like High School Musical. The plus side was that some of the cheer athletes crossed over, bringing their popping and locking skills with them—adding flair to many of the team’s routines. “Every routine is different, but if we have a team that has hip-hop girls, we put that in there,” she says. “When we had breakdancing boys on a team, the crowds would go crazy. The girls would roll off the floor, and they would have their eight seconds.” Because breakdancing incorporates tumbling, the hip-hop-inspired class has served as a good complement, helping fill the building with even more energy and excitement and making UPA stand out as the state’s more rhythmic all stars.

That program’s success led to UPA Cheer also taking a chance with an up-andcoming recreational activity six years ago called urban tumbling, which is very similar to parkour. They both incorporate movements and mental fortitude to move from point A to B efficiently while overcoming obstacles. Urban tumbling is a structured, indoor program that replicates parkour in a safer, less litigious way. Urban tumbling even finds its way into routines at times, adding variations on the tic-tac here or a kong vault there. “They are different kinds of rolls and flips,” Matheson explains, adding that it’s done in a sly way. “We have so many rules and regulations we have to go by that the parkour flips aren’t true flips, but they add a different element, a little flair.” The classes inadvertently became a feeder program for the gym’s cheer program, with crossover going in both directions. “It has become a cool thing, doing these tumbling skills,” she says. The classes bring more boys through the gym’s doors. And once they’re in, they often gravitate towards the excitement of competitive cheer and the acrobatics possible as part of a team. While the breakdancing and urban tumbling classes are strictly recreational, there are chances to show off, like the yearly showcase put on for parents. “Our showcase involves everyone in the gym,” she says. “They get to see the other teams and cheer each other on.” And that reinforces that together—cheer, hip-hop and parkour athletes—they are one at UPA Cheer. Together they make the gym stand strong. That’s the power of the fist.



power, pride, passion and perfection. All 11 of the UPA teams start with the letter “P” to drive the point home.

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Kelly Smith Helton

by Renee Camus

Find out how using creative motivation has helped Kelly Smith Helton rack up the wins and inspire her athletes. Anyone who knows Kelly Smith Helton of the popular Cheer Extreme franchise knows that she is blessed with a creative mind. As owner of the gym’s Raleigh location, Helton believes in positive reinforcement and has an innate talent for coming up with fun ideas to get her athletes involved and reaching their full potential. (In fact, Helton is so good at inspiring loyalty that more than 200 of her athletes and gym parents attended her wedding ceremony.) Learn more about Helton’s offbeat approach and why it works: Talk about the creative activities you do with your athletes. Helton: We do all kinds of crazy stuff— every month, we’ll do a craft kind of thing. We made Styrofoam turkeys for Thanksgiving. [Athletes who] hit a routine with three deductions got a feather for the turkey, and the kid who did the best in that routine then got to actually attach it to the turkey. For the last 30 minutes of their practice, we ushered everybody out of the lobby, put a tablecloth down and had a legitimate turkey dinner at the gym. We all shared what we were thankful for.

For Leap Day, we did a leapfrog thing, and we did bouquets for February. The way it worked was that if you had a routine with one deduction, we put the kid’s name or the stunt name on a rose that went into the vase of fake flowers. We teach accountability in our gym, and nobody wants to be the deduction. Routines with timing issues or bobbles that weren’t actual deductions were worth two points, and the team that hit fullouts perfectly got red roses in a vase. Every rose was worth a different amount of points, and the team with the most points got to skip out on the last 30 minutes of practice and go with me to Starbucks. We actually ended up with some of the best routines we’d ever done in February. Are they all team activities? Helton: Most are on a team basis, but we have some individual ways to get attention. We have incentive charts all across the gym, and every kid’s name is on their team’s chart. If you hit a fullout individually, you put a sticker under your name. Once you get to 25 hits, you get a sticker that says “Gold Star Club” to wear around the gym. Eighteen-year-olds will wear it around the gym because they’re proud they did 25 fullouts in practice.

Why do you think these activities are important? Helton: I think when kids look back, they’re going to remember things like this. That’s what I remember from cheerleading and what made it fun and still kid-oriented. These days, competitive cheer is so stressful and causes a lot of anxiety for kids, so if we can pair it with something that’s fun and kind of elementary schoolesque, they tend to revert back to their childish ways and have a little more fun with it. It makes it less stressful. They’re not doing it to burn calories or do exercise; they’re doing it to [win a prize]. I think positive motivation gets you further in the sport than cursing and yelling. And it entertains the coaching staff too, because when you watch 40,000 hours a week, we can use that change of pace. How do the kids respond? Helton: They get really committed. A lot of times, they roll their eyes like, “Oh, man, again?” But then they get into it. The crazy thing is it works for all ages. Even our international team [members], some of whom are out of college, get really excited, too.







STATE OF THE UNION For our annual “State of the Union” roundtable, CheerProfessional tapped three of the industry’s cheer “leaders” for a spirited, straightforward panel discussion on our industry and its future.


Billy Smith Spirit Celebration and Amazing! Championships

Kelly Makay Co-Owner at HotCheer All Stars


Mandi Spina Cheer Fusion


Makay: I support it. I don’t necessarily think credentialing makes people more qualified than someone not credentialed, but I understand a system needs to be in place. I think background checks and memberships are appropriate. Spina: I personally love the mandates put in place this season by USASF. I feel the timing and notice given to coaches and event producers may not have been adequate for how much was changing, but the changes themselves are fantastic. Due to the nature of our industry, all coaches/owners should be background checked. This is critical in this day and age with so much negative news regarding youth sports and coaches. There is only a requirement for credentialing of Worlds coaches now, which I hope will be trickled down to all levels in the coming seasons. I am on the fence regarding mandatory memberships. I feel that it is important, but more resources should be available for coaches (such as including regional meetings, regional trainings and/or credentialing in this fee, etc.). Smith: I think the direction of the USASF to make our industry safer has been a good thing. Regarding background checks, [they have] good intentions, but I believe that until the coaches can get actual membership cards each year showing they have passed the background checks (which should happen yearly), this puts the event producers in “police mode” and turning away customers is not going to happen very often. Because the USASF is only for all stars, the rec coaches are not required to have background checks…so we are still open to the same issues within our industry. It has brought an awareness to the forefront about background checks which is good.

Regarding credentialing requirements, the intent was to make sure coaches were educated, but now with “online” testing, anyone can pass this test. Hands-on testing was a positive way to ensure the person could teach a skill. The people putting these tests together would benefit by using education experts to help create the tests and focus on the higher level of questioning (i.e. evaluation). If the USASF is going to be about safety, they need to focus on education issues and not just scoresheets. Regarding mandatory membership, it is out of control how much money the not-for-profit USASF is making from our industry. The summer conferences and Worlds should pay for themselves, so where is this money going? The argument of more insurance is not working when EPs and gyms are required to have insurance; the argument of “We need money to operate the offices and staff” with millions each year on membership dues, without disclosing financials, is the big question? The fact that every all-star cheerleader and prep athlete pays $30 for nothing tangible is what causes the most anxiety in our industry for those that don’t attend Worlds. Another frustration for EPs is the fact that gyms can attend non-sanctioned events, but USASF EPs get fined $1000 per incident if they allow non-members to attend our events. That’s just wrong. The EPs are put in the position of policing when the USASF is getting all the money. The EPs get nothing from the membership but are required to staff the positions to police the coaches. Yes, there is frustration at all levels—coaches and EP’s.

many teams their child wants to do. I also am grateful to have had crossovers to build my programs and introduce teams in new divisions over the years. Spina: Crossover limitations are definitely a hot button issue. With the new regulations regarding Summit crossovers and Worlds/Summit crossovers, gyms who attend these events were forced to think of their teams in new ways. We personally use crossovers in various ways. We took the new crossover rules into consideration starting at team placements and have monitored them since. I feel crossovers are necessary in all facets, especially to smaller gyms. I do feel that crossover limitations are needed, especially in terms of what levels they can compete at (example: Level 2 can only compete on Level 1 or 3 as crossover team). Each gym uses crossovers in a different fashion. For Cheer Fusion, we use crossovers to give our athletes a more holistic view of cheer and expose them to new routine placements (flyer who wants to base, base who wants to fly, etc). I hope the industry adopts Summit’s crossover policy going forward. Smith: EPs and coaches have big crossover issues for scheduling purposes and the additional burden that it places on athletes’ bodies and the parents’ finances. As any other sport, I hope we move to a no-crossover rule in the future. The “ringers” of exceptional athletes being used on different teams is not healthy for our industry to prosper.

The topic of crossover limitations and regulations is a hot button issue this season. What are your thoughts?

All Star Prep has been a viable and quite competitive division for many gyms. What’s in store for the half-year divisions next season?

Makay: I don’t support limiting crossovers. We, as a gym, have been reducing the percentage over the years, but I think it should be the consumer’s choice how

Makay: That division is growing in Pittsburgh, but I think it’s more prominent in other parts of the country. I’m not sure where it will be going next season, but I do



What is your take on the mandates imposed by USASF (such as background checks, credentialing requirements, mandatory memberships)?

continued from page 17

Spina: We do not offer All Star Prep or Half Year [teams], but they are very prevalent in our area. I feel that this type of team will grow even more if the cost of all-star cheer continues to grow. I hope that the requirements for each type of team are spelled out even more in seasons to come, as there seems to be confusion in regards to the definition and restrictions. What industry weaknesses should be addressed next season? Makay: While I’m not as passionate about it as some, I have struggled with the new scoring this year. I believe that execution/ technique is defined very differently from one judge to another; this has affected my program at times. Spina: The only industry weakness I personally see that needs focus is changes made to rules or rubrics during the season. Changes should be made by a set date for the upcoming season and not updated until after the season ends. This proves difficult as some gyms have longer seasons than others, but an agreed-upon date for changes is needed to diffuse confusion amongst coaches once routines have been created for the season. Smith: Diversifying the USASF Board of Directors will always be the hot topic! To have one company that has all but one of the board seats is not good. Frustrations continue to mount as the largest EP controls the board that governs our industry. How can the employees being board members be non-biased when the bottom line of the employer is their source of income for their families? The only owner of their own company on the board is the IEP member representing 30plus companies. The seats on the board can only be given up by the board member, and so far, only Lance Wagers has given up

his seat to another coach. The buyout of companies has caused this situation, but the rules were put in place—and without a complete overhaul, we are stuck with this situation. Will we see a move forward with the bottom-age grid next season? Makay: I hope so. I support bottom ages. Parents push to move their kids to age brackets when they haven’t maxed out the one below it. It is a choice within your business, but when your local competitors are willing to put kids on older teams at younger ages, it’s hard to not affect your business when you choose not to do the same. Spina: I do see an age grid bottom limit coming in the future, but not next season. I have mixed feelings on it, but if gyms are given ample time to plan for this type of change, effective team rosters can be accomplished. There will never be 100 percent buy-in due to various gym sizes and situations. Change is hard and produces emotion, but I remember when the 10-year bottom limit was put on senior teams and we have adapted to that. It can be done with proper communication. Smith: Not next season, but I do think [it will happen] in the future. I pray this is split between Division 1 and Division 2 having different guidelines, as some Division 2 [programs] need every child to make a team! Division 1 coaches are the most vocal, and we need to have split committees for this rule to help the industry grow. Allowing younger age athletes to attend Worlds is hurting our longevity with senior flyers. We need to focus on getting athletes prepared for college cheer, and flyers being mostly younger is not helping those older athletes.

Where do you see the industry headed in the next few years? Makay: Personally, I see my business increasing types of revenue. My focus, first and foremost, is on the experience of our brand. It appears from recent acquisitions that choice in the realm of competition companies has been reduced. I am interested to see what the independent event producers will do to increase their role in the industry. Mergers and franchises also seem to be on the rise. Spina: As a coach, I feel we will see a more streamlined process for all-star cheer. I hope to see a true national championship versus every event producer having their own or having multiple [nationals] during the season. I think we will see a stronger emphasis put on the security of events and coach training. I hope we see a decrease in the amount of money spent on uniforms; my ideal would be a simplistic athletic uniform that showcases athletic ability versus sparkle and shine. Smith: The absolute worst thing that could happen is to not have choices! If we only had American Airlines, flight prices would skyrocket. With independent event producers and choices for uniform companies, prices are kept lower. Lower prices give more people the opportunity to participate. I hope the coaches realize they control the industry with their dollars. What we need to focus on is behavior of our industry in our customers. The expectations that gym owners have for their athletes and parents; that EP’s have for the parents, athletes and coaches at events; and that coaches have for the judging to be professional. The “reality TV”-style screaming behavior has got to be stopped, or we will have unsafe environments which will ruin our industry. Sportsmanship and respect for each other would be a great project for the USASF. The opinions expressed are solely those of our interviewees and not held by CheerProfessional.



think it helps gyms diversify their revenue streams as businesses.




Bee by Lisa




Numerous gyms have capitalized on the fascination with all-star cheerleading by agreeing to be filmed for reality shows and documentaries. But what’s life like behind the lens?



Central Jersey Allstars (Kenilworth, New Jersey)

Central Jersey Allstars were featured on two episodes of the Lifetime show “Jersey Cheer” in 2011, six episodes of the CMT reality series “Cheer!” in 2012 and 30 episodes of AwesomenessTV’s “Cheerleaders New Jersey” in 2015. Find out what gym owner Patty Ann Romero shares about her gym’s star turn. How did these opportunities come about? Romero: I know Kelly Ripa and her husband Mark Consuelos. Their production company is Milojo Productions. We started working with them at Lifetime in 2011, and they’ve been our producers through all three projects. What is it like to have a TV crew shooting at your gym? Romero: My staff and our athletes are instructed right from the get-go that they have to continue to do what they’re doing, and that’s training. The kids were really good about not letting it interfere with the training. When certain athletes were featured, were others jealous? Romero: Not at all. CMT focused on one of our Worlds teams, Team Gunz. They interviewed each athlete, picked the

biggest personalities, and they became the focus of the show. Most of the time, the team was featured as a team. How do you feel the shows have portrayed your gym? Romero: There are always going to be things where I’m like, “That could’ve been said differently,” but on a whole, they portrayed it very well. Has being featured this way changed anything for you? Romero: Exposure for the gym definitely boosts interest, but it hasn’t changed the way I do business or the way our coaches conduct themselves. How did the athletes and parents react? Romero: They were excited about it. Before each project, I sat the parents and the kids down and said, “Look, this

is what’s going to happen.” They had to fill out a lot of paperwork and there were waivers to be signed. When CMT came in, the Child Labor Department was here. Everything was done by the book. The parents loved it, and the kids had a great experience. If another gym owner asked you for advice on an opportunity like this, what would you say? Romero: Don’t let it compromise your gym, your training or your athletes. Stay true to yourself, because like I said to the kids, “When these people pack up their cameras and pull out of here, we’re still going to be who we were before they got here. We’re still going to be coach and athlete. This is about giving our industry exposure, and hopefully in a positive light, and at the end of the day, we’re still who we are—cheerleaders.”


World Cup All Stars (Freehold, New Jersey)

For the 2012 documentary The Twinkles: Chasing Perfection, the New Jersey Star-Ledger followed the World Cup All Stars’ Youth Level 5 team, the Twinkles, as they trained for the Nationals in Dallas. Owner/director Elaine Pascale shared more about this unique experience. It showed that even though these athletes All that was important was their team and How did you get this opportunity? were only 9, 10, 11 years old, they still getting the routine in shape to compete in Pascale: Two newspaper writers came had very high aspirations. I’ve had a mom Dallas. out and interviewed our coach and our come up and tell me that the documentary Twinkles. They saw a story there and Has being featured like this changed got her daughter interested in the sport. It decided to do a documentary. They anything about the way you do business? had a huge effect, and I have to say it was followed the Twinkles for a couple Pascale: No. World Cup has been a gym of all positive. of months on their way to the NCA tradition. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We competition in Dallas. have 40 teams at World Cup now, and the What was the filming experience like? Twinkles were the third team that we put Pascale: In the beginning, we weren’t used How did it portray your gym – and the into effect. That was 20 years ago, and to having a camera at every practice. It was cheer world? it’s been going the same way ever since. exciting for the kids. They felt like miniPascale: It showed the parents, the kids, the There are very few programs that have a rockstars, but after a while, they turned coaching, the ups, the downs and what’s Youth Level 5, but we keep it because we the switch to competition mode, and the actually involved in all-star cheerleading. feel it’s a great training ground. cameras and interviews took a back seat. continued on page 23 SPRING 2016 PAGE 21 WWW.THECHEERPROFESSIONAL.COM





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South Bay Cheer 360 (Torrance, California)

In 2014, South Bay Cheer 360 was featured on an episode of the Hub Network reality show “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” hosted by Joey Fatone. Learn more about it from owner Katie Kapua. How did this opportunity come your way? Kapua: My oldest son’s friend loves cheerleading. I had just started the business, so I offered her free lessons. She had been coming to the gym and doing free tumbling lessons, and when she had the opportunity to do this TV show, I think she saw it as a way to pay me back. What was the episode about? Kapua: A cheerleader and her mom trade places for a day. The daughter ends up having to do different chores around the house, go to the laundromat and do a meeting with the cheer moms where they talked about fundraisers. The mom had to spend the day at the daughter’s school, and then go to cheer practice after school.

If you were talking to another gym owner who had an opportunity to be featured like this, what advice would you offer? Kapua: Make sure that you’re compensated, because it is work, and you have to be really flexible with your time. You are getting exposure, and it’s fun, but you still need to place value on the fact that you have a facility they want to use. I don’t think I capitalized on that as much as I should have. I was way too excited to just do it. I could’ve definitely capitalized on the location and the equipment, and maybe be able to buy some new things for our gym in return—but that’s alright. It was still fun.

How did that go? Kapua: The mom used to be a gymnast, so she actually did some tumbling. It was pretty impressive, actually! She had to try to keep up with 14- to 16-year-old girls who were tumbling, so it wasn’t easy for her. Were you happy with how the gym was portrayed? Kapua: I thought it was fine. We knew it was all in good fun. Because it is a business, we did talk to the producers at length about the light in which our company would be painted. They assured us that it would all be positive, and it was. There was some cheer mom drama, but that’s kind of true to life. Did anything surprise you about the experience? Kapua: I was surprised by how much their schedule fluctuated. They’d say, “We’re gonna be here at this time,” and then the day before, “Never mind, we have to switch it.” They sent me a schedule, and I thought, “Okay, this is the schedule,” but that’s not the case with show business, I guess. SPRING 2016 PAGE 23 WWW.THECHEERPROFESSIONAL.COM






Ready by Alicia Thompson

Look through the lens of gym owners who’ve installed cameras in their building and see why they think it’s worth it.

The idea of recording everything that happens in your gym might feel like a reality show at best—or Big Brother at worst. But multiple gym owners who’ve taken the plunge say that, after awhile, no one even notices the cameras. “They are as much a part of our business as the coaches, athletes and the spring floor!” says Michelle Goff, owner of Infinite Cheer & Tumble in North Carolina. There are many reasons why installing cameras makes sense. Fuel Athletics founder Lauren Gurske points out that they serve as a crime deterrent, documentation of events and proof of your intent to be a responsible business owner—which can be highly important

when accused of negligence. Camera footage provides a record of any injury, overnight lock-in or altercation; it also enables gym owners to monitor practices when out of town for competitions or conferences. For example, when Gurske had to travel every Friday for 10 straight weeks to judge events, she was able to review camera footage on her phone from the airport or hotel and text the coach running practice back at the gym with any observations or guidance. Cameras can also lend a critical eye for recording practices and tracking athletes’ progress. Whether at the beginning of the season, when they’re just learning new routines, or after they’ve competed


and received feedback from the judges, watching recordings can help athletes see what the judges are seeing and make adjustments. “The girls enjoy watching the videos,” says Samantha Barham, general manager of North Carolina-based Young’s Gymnastics. “It gives them visual feedback.”

Up and Running

Depending on your budget, reasons for installing a camera system and the technological savvy of your staff, there are many options available. Goff chose the TriVision NC-336W HP 1080P Home IP Security Camera with facial recognition, because it’s “pretty much plug and play”


Gurske, on the other hand, uses five TrendNew IP cameras placed around the gym floor and lobby. Each camera, which runs under $200, records to a file server on the gym’s network and doesn’t require any monthly fees. If monthly fees aren’t a problem and you want ease of use, Gurske recommends investing in DropCam: “You get tons of features, Internet-based archiving and extremely easy set-up.” She even recommends having a two-way dash cam (which costs around $100) to place in any vehicle used to transport athletes, as added protection in any accident or accusation. For recording routines, Barham says it doesn’t get any easier than a standard GoPro, which can be bought for as cheap as $129: “We use [it] on a tripod and it

pans out with a fish lens and records all nine panels of the floor, and then we can play the routines back on a TV with an HD cable.”

Why It’s Worth It

Whether you choose the cheapest option or you invest thousands into a professionally installed system, gym owners who have camera systems agree that the results have only been positive. “Keep in mind that one accusation of anything can result in you losing your gym, any reputation you have built for yourself and/or program, losing your present and future assets and can possibly even send you to jail,” says Gurske. “The only proof you have is what you recorded.”

already existing gym environment, rather than as something that will change that environment. “You want to make sure that everyone is aware that [the cameras] are there so it doesn’t feel secretive,” says Barham. “It’s a comforting thing, I would say.”


and works with numerous devices and interfaces. Plus, Goff can easily access the live footage online and flag keywords or patterns of behaviors to alert her if they show up on the feed. These cameras were roughly $400 each, and were easy enough to install that one of her staff did the job.

They are as much a part of our business as the coaches, athletes and the spring floor!

Goff agrees, pointing out that “the camera has no stake in the game. It only records and plays back what happens. The rest is on myself, the staff, parents and athletes in the gym to represent the best possible character traits expected at Infinite Cheer.” In this way, gym owners should think of cameras as support for their

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the Line

by Nicole Pajer

Sexual misconduct has become a hot topic in the all-star cheer industry, especially in light of several high-profile cases. Find out how you can protect your athletes—and your gym—against these scenarios. In late 2015, a well-liked all-star gym owner was charged with having sexual contact with an underage former athlete. It was an offense that shook the world of competitive cheerleading and left gym owners worried about how to protect their businesses from such incidents going forward. And, unfortunately, it wasn’t an isolated occurrence—a rash of similar incidents has made recent headlines, casting a negative light on the all-star cheer community and instilling doubt and fear among parents and athletes. Inappropriate staff/athlete contact continues to be an issue within the community. An allegation of this nature, whether proven true or false, can have irreparable effects on an all-star program. Fortunately, there are policies that gym owners can put into place to shield

themselves from this type of criminal offense.

Install a surveillance system in your gym. When someone comes forward

with a sexual allegation, it often becomes a game of “he said, she said” without a witness present. But if you have the incident caught on tape, then you can quickly review it to see what really happened. “Cameras in the gym are the best way that you can cover your butt,” says Alexis Carter of Carolina Elite. (See page 26 for more info on how you can install cameras in your gym.)

Do a proper background check on staff. While the USASF offers their own screening, many all-star facility owners are adding supplemental investigations to their hiring process. Shiela Perry, owner of

Cheer Zone Athletics, utilizes a company called HireRight to look into a coaching candidate’s criminal past. She’s quick to point out, however, that background checks should not be relied upon alone. “A lot of people that are doing these types of things don’t get caught, or no one reports it,” explains Perry. For this reason, Carter stresses the importance of gathering references on potential staff members. “This industry, as big as it is, is also a very small place. Everyone knows somebody, so it’s not hard to do your due diligence and find out who you are hiring and why they are available.”

Don’t allow coaches to be unsupervised with athletes. “A coach— male or female—should never be alone







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THE BIG REVEAL by Lisa Beebe

Done the right way, unveiling a team’s new uniforms can be an unforgettable occasion for all involved. Find out how four gyms make it an epic experience. Athletes Plus Cape Girardeau, Missouri A few years ago, Athletes Plus owner Melanie Wissore was planning to order new uniforms for the following season. With a team headed to the Summit, she thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to buy uniforms for the girls that are going, so they can wear them for the first time?” Her ambitious plan kicked into high gear: Wissore worked with Varsity to design new uniforms, without telling the girls or their parents. When they arrived, she stealthily carried them with her on the plane. Pulling off the surprise involved setting up a fake photo opportunity with Varsity. She told the girls, “Just in case we get on camera, wear your practice uniforms, and make your hair cute.” While Wissore was meeting with the rest of the team, Varsity pulled an injured athlete aside to try on the uniform. When she came out wearing it, Wissore announced, “We have them here for

everyone, and you’re going to wear them for the Summit!” What followed was a reaction Wissore will never forget: “I knew the girls would be excited, but the parents were crying. They were like, ‘We can’t believe you kept this a secret.’” To her surprise, Varsity edited together a video about the new uniforms, and the reveal aired on ESPN. Overall, she says it was a great success: “I highly recommend a surprise reveal.” Triple Threat All Stars Santa Maria, California Triple Threat All Stars owner Kali Williams says that, “Anytime we get anything new in bulk, I do a reveal.” This year, Triple Threat got new uniforms from Rebel Athletic, so Williams set out to plan something awesome. A few weeks before they arrived, Williams stopped talking about them, so they wouldn’t be on anyone’s mind. Since her athletes go for a run outside before each

practice, she had ample time to set up the surprise. “I had my three team moms lay the uniforms out on the floor with their bow on top. They’re all mixed up, not by teams or sizes or anything.” When the girls came in, Williams told them the uniforms haven’t arrived yet, and that they were taking longer than she expected. Then, when the girls came around the panel mats, they were thrilled to see the uniforms on the floor. Williams says, “It’s hilarious. You would think it was Christmas morning. We tell the parents when we’re doing it—I send out a text message right before practice—and they hide behind the mats, so they can get pictures.” Glitz All-Star Cheer Janesville, Wisconsin The last time Glitz ordered new uniforms, gym owner Ashley Sheppard got creative on social media: “I took a picture of the uniform, cut it into tiny squares, and then every couple of days, I’d release one.”





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with an athlete within or outside of the gym, unless in the case of emergency,” explains Carter, who implements such a policy at Carolina Elite. She goes to great lengths to ensure that everything stays on the up and up: “No coaches are ever allowed alone with our teams. Parents stay for private lessons, and we have a huge viewing window. The offices don’t lock. There is a two-coach policy and if it ends up being just one coach, another adult needs to be present. A gym mom will need to be there, or I’ll stay after.”

Immediately terminate an employee that you have suspicions about.

If you’ve heard any sort of complaint from a parent or athlete—or have any suspicions that a staff member may be acting in an inappropriate manner— it’s best to remove that employee from your gym. A renowned program director who prefers to remain anonymous tells CheerProfessional that she encountered a

situation where one of her male coaches brought a group of teenage boys to a competition and allowed them to hang out in a hotel room with underage female cheerleaders. Seeing that as a red flag, she took immediate action to remove him from her facility. “I thought, if that coach would have that lack of judgment or character that he would hang out with kids in a hotel, what else would happen?” the gym owner explains. “I let him go immediately, even though he was one of my better staff.”

Bump up your liability insurance.

There are certain types of policies that can cover a gym in the face of a sexual allegation. Cheer Zone, for instance, uses the K&K Insurance Group and pays extra for the policy’s sexual molestation clause. “If you or anyone at your gym was accused of something inappropriate in nature, then it provides all of the things that come with defending yourself as a gym,” Perry explains. “Every year when it’s time to

renew, I always add that because it’s such a hot topic in the industry. You never know when it could happen in your gym.” Safeguarding your program from these incidents ultimately comes down to doing whatever you can as a gym owner to help facilitate a professional staff/athlete relationship. “It’s hard in this business, where we can get so close to these kids; in some cases, our coaches will work with them for 14 years if they stick with it,” Perry notes. “They become more than just a client to you, but it’s important to maintain those boundaries because the line can get blurred so fast. It’s important that we protect athletes from people in the industry that may have poor intentions, but also that we protect our reputation. Because even if nothing inappropriate happened—if it can be perceived that something bad has happened, then it’s not good for the business, that coach or the industry as a whole.”

continued from page 31

THE BIG REVEAL When she posted the cropped images on Instagram and Facebook, Sheppard included a countdown of the days until the reveal to raise anticipation. The new uniforms included a new color, but she was careful not to show that in the pictures she posted. On the day of the reveal, Sheppard staged it “like a baby reveal. We had balloons that color in a box and released them.” She also had a prototype of the uniform there for the athletes to try on. “We had them come in outside of their practice time for the uniform reveal, and we had a full gym, which was nice.” After attracting such a crowd, she hopes to make future reveals an even bigger deal, and she views this one as a learning experience. Says Sheppard, “We opened the balloons, and then that was kind of it. It would’ve been fun to have something else going on, like a game or something.”

North Florida Elite Starke, Florida At North Florida Elite, owner Kyle Nelson reveals new uniforms to parents first. At the very first parent meeting, he has one of his coaches model the prototype. This approach fulfills two purposes: getting parents excited about the season and taking away some of the sting of the uniform expense. When the uniforms arrive, he tells the athletes. “They all want to see them, but we make them earn it.” First, they have to hit a deduction-free routine: “It’s not going to be perfect, because it’s still early in the season, so we give them a little bit of leeway.” Once they do that, they have to spell out their team name using an ABC chart on the wall. (The letter A says, “20 push-ups;” B says, “20 burpees;” and so on.)

Nelson says that this approach really pumps up the productivity at practices. “The kids are super pumped and pushing extra hard, because they see this prize at the end,” he shares. When they finally earn it, he has the athletes face the back wall while the uniforms are laid out, and then they sprint across the floor to find the one with their name on it. Nelson tries to do all of the uniform reveals on the same day—at least for the older, social media-savvy athletes. He says, “They rush home to put them on, and Instagram and Snapchat are flooded.” It’s a double win: Athletes are thrilled to show off their uniforms online, and Nelson says, “It’s good for us, because it’s free advertising and marketing.”








by Lisa Beebe

Recognizing the moms and dads who make a positive difference can benefit the gym as a whole. At Pro Spirit’s last showcase, the gym’s athletes weren’t the only ones in the spotlight. Owner Jeff Miller called several parents to the stage to honor them for their contributions to the gym and surprise them with a gift. He says, “They were all very thankful. One mom was completely moved to tears and gave me a huge hug.” What did the parents do to deserve this special treatment? Miller says it’s mostly about their enthusiasm as part of the gym community: “As soon as I post something on social media, they repost it. They’re really trying to advance the gym.” In addition to spreading the word online, several parents set up a special dinner for the Pro Spirit coaches during NCA week. They brought in Italian food and decorated the staff room to look like an Italian restaurant. “It definitely helps us feel good about what we’re doing with their kids, because obviously they wouldn’t put that much effort into it if they weren’t happy with what was going on,” says Miller. At Plantation, FL-based 5 Star Athletics, owner Catherine Hearn recently instituted a Parent of the Month program. The first award went to a couple who is “here constantly, picking up extra kids, dropping

them off, helping with snacks. Sometimes they stay after and help the staff clean up the gym.” The gym surprised them with a $50 gift card to go out to dinner and two free movie passes. In the future, Hearn hopes to offer more extravagant gifts and reward parents who help keep things drama-free while the gym is traveling. She says her favorite parents are the ones who put an end to negativity and walk away from arguments instead of getting involved. Hearn suggests that other gym owners can avoid accusations of favoritism by considering a broad aspect of parents, not just the ones who spend the most time in the gym. She says, “You don’t want other parents thinking, ‘Oh, they’re the favorites, because they’re always there.’” Occasional rewards may give parents who haven’t been honored yet something to shoot for. After Pro Spirit’s showcase, Miller “had other parents immediately start helping me out on social media and things like that.” Hearn agrees, and hopes parents at 5 Star will see her Parent of the Month program as an incentive to think, “Okay, let’s all behave, let’s all be here on time, and get through what we need to get through.” Storm All Stars Cheer & Dance in Brandon,


Florida, is located near MacDill Air Force Base, and the gym’s athletes often come from military families. Owner Margaret DeVore likes to acknowledge those parents, whether they are serving the country or putting in extra effort while their spouse is overseas. “We had a dad that came back last season, and we had everybody in the gym stop and thank him for his service.” She says that when one of an athlete’s parents is in the military, other kids may not know what’s going on. “A lot of kids don’t realize that their mom is the only one taking them and picking them up, because their dad is gone all the time. If we can help parents out while their spouse is away on duty, we do. Our parents carpool with each other, and try to do what they can to help each other.” Jeff Miller believes that while any acknowledgment will make parents feel good, saying thank you in a public way— whether at a showcase or online—has more of an impact. “It’s nice to get an individual thank you, but when it’s put out there in front of everybody, it really makes a difference. You can send a thankyou email to a person, but when you send a blanket email to your whole program thanking that person, it means a whole lot more.”

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E R’



Tara Wieland

of Michigan Storm by Dina Gachman

VITAL STATS Name: Tara Wieland, Owner Gym: Aftershock Trampoline Park and Michigan Storm Cheer Location: Midland, MI

Debrief: In October 2015, all-star gym owner Tara Wieland unveiled her new business: Aftershock Trampoline Park. The park has been a big success—both with her athletes and the local community.

The Dish: When my cheer kids were coming into practice saying that they’d driven more than two hours to Detroit to pay $25 an hour to jump on trampolines... that’s definitely what piqued my interest.

It was a lot of work to get it started—I did a lot of research. I started by looking up other trampoline parks. I also sent out surveys to my customers about what they liked and didn’t like about the corporate parks, and I visited them myself to just see how it all worked. I spoke to my attorney, my insurance company and my accountant and then made the decision that it was going to be a good move. I had to find a supplier for the equipment. I went with an international toy company

and came up with a design that would better fit what my athletes wanted. The larger parks I had visited only had square trampolines, there weren’t any tracks for running tumbling, and none of the trampolines entered their foam pit. Once the design was done, it was time to find a building. We didn’t want to build a new facility. It would have been insanely expensive, and I wanted to find something that was already in a great location. The building we chose is five minutes from where Michigan Storm holds practice; it’s right off the highway and has room for expansion. It basically fell out of the sky. Next we had to convert what used to be a shop that repaired tractors into a family-


friendly facility. My husband and I did all of the work ourselves and it was probably the hardest thing we have ever done— from cleaning to painting to building walls to figuring out the customer check-in system, building the website, coming up with a brand, coming up with policies, hiring/training the staff and, worst of all, putting together the giant jigsaw puzzle of a structure with very few instructions. The whole process took almost a year from start to opening day. It was a lot more work than we anticipated, but it’s definitely worth it. One of the toughest things to deal with was customs and shipping. Dealing with anything this big coming from an international company is a huge

headache, and I definitely learned a lot. It’s a lot of forms and a lot of money. Also, there is a Trampoline Park Act for the state of Michigan, so I had to abide by all of the safety guidelines set forth by that act. Our total investment was just under $65,000, which is less than the franchise fee for one of the corporate trampoline parks. As far as unveiling the project, we told the parents about the plans at the beginning of the season. Then we told the kids and we asked for their feedback. Some of my cheer staff now work for both Michigan Storm and Aftershock. They were eager to pick up more hours so we offered it to them first. We held outside interviews for the other positions that my staff didn’t want or weren’t qualified for. Michigan Storm and Aftershock are separate entities. We run them as completely separate businesses. Our competitive team members can attend any open jump at no cost. For the general public, we offer open jump every hour on the hour for $10 per person per hour. We’re open six days a week, and our max is 25 jumpers and 25 observers during any given hour. One of our biggest sources of revenue comes from birthday parties; we are full every weekend, running six parties a weekend that are $200 to $400 (depending on the package). For the parties, I teamed up with two locally owned businesses: one for the cupcakes and one for the pizza. The three of us cross-market together, and it has been very successful for all three businesses. We also offer Dollar Night on the first Tuesday of each month and that brings in a lot of new customers who just want to try it out. On average, our customer return rate is over 85 percent from Dollar Night, so it has also been very successful.

We don’t compete in trampoline or power tumbling. The best part about Aftershock is that it is a “fun zone.” We do offer tumbling classes two nights a week, but other than that, it is just like open gym all the time. I don’t have to stress out about floor space or schedules. People just come in for an hour and have a great time. It’s pretty amazing. We offer the competitive teams free open jump. Some choose to take advantage of it and some don’t. It’s really up to them.

We have been very blessed when it comes to marketing. When we launched our Facebook page, we had over 2,500 likes in 24 hours. It was like the community was waiting for something like this to come to the area. A former cheerleader of mine works at a marketing firm and she got us on the radio. The local papers in the area were excited about us, so they came in; our local news station also came in, so we have been blowing up pretty fast. In a lot of ways, it’s easier than cheer. You have a completely different clientele— they just want to come in and have fun. However, the party mom can put a cheer mom to shame in a heartbeat if [her] princess didn’t feel like a princess for her party. My advice? Talk to your attorney, your accountant and your lawyer before you pursue this at all. It’s a lot of work to get it off the ground, but the best part about it is that once it was up and running, I didn’t have to be there to run it. It runs itself. I have time to work on the cheer gym, run the pro shop and do marketing for all of them. The added income to my family is a huge bonus. I bought my husband a new diesel truck for Christmas. Do you have any idea how amazing it was to just go pick one out and see the look on his face when I said, “I got this for you?” The look on his face that day has been the best benefit of all.

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to You by Dina Gachman

Power tumbling and trampoline are becoming increasingly popular at all-star gyms. Here’s what you need to know about this growing niche. Power tumbling and trampoline have long been part of the gymnastics world, and in recent years, gained major traction in the all-star cheerleading world as well. Many cheer gym owners are now incorporating trampoline and tumbling into their programs with amazing results. Like any new endeavor, it takes patience, time and discipline to get the program up and running, but the results are often well worth it. In a nutshell, power tumbling is a specialized discipline that involves trampolines, rod floors and double minis. Like gymnastics and cheer, it’s divided into different skill passes or levels, from beginner to advanced. Kellie Alvarez, Tennessee state chair for USTA (United States Trampoline and Tumbling Association), says that power tumbling and trampoline can build a cheerleader’s existing skillset and give athletes a new sense of aerial awareness. There’s a reason the discipline is becoming a growing trend. Just ask Heather Dean, owner of Orrville, OH-based Heather’s Studio/Ohio Star Power, who says, “Power tumbling is my passion.” Since its founding in 1997, her gym has played home to more than 50 state and national champions in power tumbling and trampoline. Athletes compete in USTA competitions, and Dean believes that her gym’s power

tumbling and trampoline programs have also contributed to her success on the cheerleading front.

cheer programs. Competition fees, coach fees and team T-shirts are added up and divided into block fees for the season.

Her advice to other gym owners who want to expand into these areas? Start small. Gyms that want to ease into offering these programs can use their existing floors and start with black bed trampolines to test the waters. “[These disciplines] are very easy programs to add,” says Dean. “The only necessary purchase is a double mini.” She adds that once gym owners know they want to continue, the next investment should be a rod floor and a yellow or white bed trampoline.

“Being affordable has been a great asset to our power tumbling program and is definitely one of our numberone selling points,” explains Briggs. “Our power tumbling parents only pay about $800 in block fees for the whole year, and the uniform is significantly less than a fully blinged-out cheer uniform, regardless of company.”

As Collinsville, IL-based Pride of Illinois’ tumbling and class director, David Briggs was given carte blanche to develop the gym’s power tumbling and trampoline program a few years ago. The main facility, nicknamed The Lion’s Den, is 14,400 square feet and holds two tumble tracks and two trampolines (in addition to all the other cheer and gymnastics equipment needed for their programs). Briggs says they started small and built from there, working to keep the budget “well within the parents’ comfort zone.” One way the gym does that is to keep the power tumbling and trampoline program affordable. Currently, they charge $99/ month in tuition, which is $30 to 50 less than their all-star prep and competitive


In just one year, Pride of Illinois has doubled the size of their trampoline and power tumbling program. Of the 550 total athletes at Briggs’ gym, 50 compete in power tumbling (five of those are cheer crossovers). The new programs also help with retention of all-star athletes, Briggs says. If they get burned out with cheer or just want a change of pace, it’s something different for them to put their energies into for the long haul or for just a short period of time. However, transitioning and teaching those athletes who do crossover can sometimes be a challenge. There are major differences in how athletes are judged at competitions, so it’s an adjustment for some at first. “In cheerleading, the judges are far away from where you perform and [there are] often multiple athletes


Both Dean and Briggs say that another common challenge is coordinating practices and managing athletes’ and coaches’ time. “Every team and coach wants the entire gym to themselves,” Briggs says. “Sharing a space with other teams at the same time is always a challenge. But it forces you as coaches to better plan your practices.” As a workaround, they added Saturday practices in addition to their one weekday practice. As far as hiring new coaches for power tumbling and/or trampoline, Briggs suggests that you can train cheer coaches in those disciplines if they’re interested, but that “the most important investment

is to have a coach or director who is passionate about building this type of program. You cannot have a part-time coach who wants to be doing other things within your program in charge of [power tumbling and trampoline]. It will never get off the ground.” Ideally, hires should have a power tumbling or gymnastics background (or at least be highly motivated to learn and embrace the disciplines). “It cannot be someone who is just taking the position for a few extra dollars in their check per month,” Briggs cautions. “The coach must be willing to listen, to learn, to train and to adapt in order to be successful. They also must know how to set reasonable goals.” And speaking of goal-setting, Briggs says that’s the key to creating success with power tumbling and trampoline. “If you set measurable and attainable goals, it can be one of the best additions to your program that you will ever make,” Briggs says. “Go slow, but go sure.”

The 411 on USTA Any gym owner interested in adding power tumbling and/or trampoline can benefit from reaching out to the USTA. The organization provides gyms, athletes and owners with a community and resources, in addition to giving out over $2,000 worth of scholarships to graduating seniors or to athletes that are still competing and continuing their education. “It’s one big family,” says Dean. “They truly have a vested interest in the athletes and coaches.” The USTA was founded in 1971 by Larry Griswold and George Nissen (the founder of the trampoline). Currently, there are over 6,000 athletes enrolled and competing in power tumbling, double mini and trampoline. Affiliating with USTA was the path Briggs and his colleagues chose to start their fledgling program; they’re working to fully develop all levels of the program before branching out into the USAG. “From a cost factor, USTA is less expensive than USAG because they don’t require full sleeves for leotards or full warm-ups,” explains Briggs. “As we continue to grow and develop the program, we will eventually begin to enter USAG competitions with select athletes.”


tumbling at the same time,” explains Briggs. “In power tumbling, the judges are right there looking at you. This was a struggle because it unnerved some of our athletes to know they were being looked at that closely.” With solid coaching and a little bit of time, though, those nerves were soothed, and the athletes adjusted.



Making the Transition by Renee Camus

The transgender community is growing, and that includes all-star athletes. Find out how to create an inclusive gym environment. As a gym owner, Kim Braasch of Cheer Tyme gets plenty of requests from athletes and parents alike. But when a talented young athlete named Paul asked to wear the girls’ uniform, it was a situation she hadn’t navigated before—yet one that’s becoming increasingly common. Like many young athletes who identify as transgender, Paul planned to change his gender and his name, becoming “Crystal.” Not only was Braasch supportive, but so was Crystal’s father, who inspired everyone at the Fairfax, VA-based gym with his incredible support. “You never know how you’re going to feel as a parent, but you hope you would be accepting,” explains Braasch. “I thought it was so brave and honorable and courageous of [Crystal’s] dad to stand up for his child. He inspired us as parents to be able to be that strong and that loving. It just was amazing.”

But what happens when a parent isn’t supportive of an athlete? “In that case, you become the parent role model,” Braasch says. She also expresses the importance of getting everyone at the gym on board, while still being mindful of the athlete’s privacy. “We sent a letter to our coaches, including the office staff—but not to the entire gym, so we didn’t make it everybody’s business,” Braasch explains. “It was presented in such a positive light, [stating] that we are in support of this athlete, everybody deserves to cheer at Cheer Tyme, and we welcome everybody with open arms. In return, I feel like all the parents and the kids have been extremely supportive.” It’s all part of Braasch’s philosophy that an inclusive gym environment “starts from the top. If you set the example that this makes this child happy, who are we to judge and try to make them feel inferior?


Our attitude trickles down and makes for a more comfortable situation for everybody.” Jade Faletto, a transgender athlete and coach, had a similar experience when Leeann Teasdale of Elite Cheer Sensation invited Faletto to join her Newport News, VA-based team. “They embraced me with open arms and were very welcoming,” Faletto says. “They knew I was trans, [but] it was never an issue. [Their attitude was], ‘You’re just another athlete, and we’re happy that you’re here. Thank you for bringing what you can bring to our gym.’” Teasdale sees it the same way, though she believes Jade’s positivity and confidence helped set the tone for helping everyone feel comfortable. “I think you have to take the lead of the person that’s actually going through it,” Teasdale says, adding that “[you] set a precedent by not making something out of nothing. She came to the program, she cheered. That was it. I think


Tannaz Emamjomeh of California All-Stars is also grateful to be able to offer her transgender athlete Sophia a safe space. Though Sophia is now home-schooled, she was bullied during her days of traditional schooling, so the gym has provided a safe haven both then and now. “Cheer is her happy place,” Emamjomeh says. “She’s safe at California All-Stars.” And how do the teammates respond? “I’m sure in the beginning there were questions,” Emamjomeh says, “but the kids asked the coaches. The coaches had a couple of private, outside conversations with them, and they understand. There’s really no judgment, at least that I can see. We all care for her deeply, and we know how hard this has been for her, so I think everyone makes a concerted effort to make her feel like she’s just like everybody else.” Jeanine Russell, floor director at Core Athletix in the Finger Lakes, NY, feels it’s important for the athlete, not the gym, to share what they wish with the gym and its members. “The goal would be to obviously respect the family’s wishes—the gym has to

be concerned regarding how much information it divulges,” says Russell. “If the family doesn’t care who knows, then they need to be the ones sharing the information, so that it doesn’t come back on any privacy breach. Just as we wouldn’t share medical information, it’s the same thing.” Of course, the more gym staff that are in the know, the more who can ensure that “nobody’s being inappropriate, there’s no bullying, and no discrimination is occurring,” Russell continues. USASF has also responded to the needs of transgender athletes by developing a “Gender Inclusive Policy” (with the assistance of a third-party organization and doctors trained and experienced in creating policy for transgender athletes). “Our transgender policy was created out of a need at several events where transgender athletes were competing,” shares USASF’s Senior Regional Director Karen Wilson, who facilitated research and development of the policy. “The policy allows participation by all athletes and follows a self-declaration and prior verification model that the Regional Directors facilitate under the direction of a professional from a third-party advisor.”

The policy has proved timely, as the past year has shone a spotlight on gender identity, thanks in part to high-profile stories like Caitlyn Jenner. Braasch suspects that Jenner’s reveal may have affected new transgender athletes, at least in Crystal’s case: “She’s known for a long time [that she wanted to transition], and when the whole Caitlyn Jenner thing came out, I feel like that helped elevate people’s desire to come forward and do it.” But as much as Faletto appreciates Jenner’s story, she says it adversely affects people’s understanding of what transgender means. “She kind of became our leader and our icon, and everybody thought, ‘Oh, this is what a trans person is—trans is surgery and enhancements,’” Faletto says. “People see me and [assume I] had all this stuff done, but no.” But Faletto knows how important it is to be confident and true to yourself—and how that manifests itself on the mat when you have a supportive community. “If you’re happy with who you are, that will show, and people will respect that,” Faletto says. “Your [own] self-acceptance is the best thing to have; I found that and I’m very happy.”



that sent a strong enough message where I didn’t really have to say anything else.”



Digital Drama

by Carmen Rodriguez

Athlete-on-athlete cyberbullying is a growing concern in the all-star cheer community—and here’s how to stop it.

Jodi Poirier, owner of Calgary STARS Gymnastic and Cheer, was stunned when one of her athletes recently sent her screenshots of an unfamiliar Instagram account that had reposted several photos of her team performing at competition. Below the reposted pictures were mean comments, such as, “Your uniforms suck.” All-star cheer is still a growing sport in Calgary (located in the Canadian province of Alberta), and cyberbullying—loosely defined as bullying that occurs through electronic means—is a part of cheer that the team had not yet experienced. “[The athletes said] this is something we see on TV or in the news, but now it’s in our backyard,” said Poirier. Poirier’s not alone. In the greater world of all-star cheer, cyberbullying incidents seem to be popping up in everyone’s “backyard.” Just ask Deirdre Butler of Arlington, WA-based Sonic Elite All Stars. After her athletes posted pictures and

status updates to celebrate a paid bid to the D2 Summit in April, her cheerleaders became the targets of a digital attack. “Who cares? It’s just D2,” wrote one cyberbully on a Sonic athlete’s Instagram page. “It’s not the real Summit,” wrote another.

What’s even harder to grasp is that these younger cheerleaders, some barely preteens, are often being cyberbullied by much older athletes. “These [cyberbullies] are 16 and 17 years old,” says Butler. “It’s really sad. That’s been the hardest part.”

The mean comments can hurt, says Cher Fuller, Level 5 coach and staff manager of Oregon Dream Teams. Fuller should know—she’s had kids “send mean messages, post rude remarks and even create fake profiles using [athletes’] photos.”

So ubiquitous is cyberbullying that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention includes it in its Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System under the category of “Behaviors that Contribute to Violence.” Its last published study found that 14.8 percent of students had been electronically bullied nationwide.

These incidents have proven particularly hard for her younger athletes. “For some of them, it may be the first time someone has told them they were less than, and this starts to break down their confidence,” said Fuller. “You can see the glow about them dim a little bit while they start to question who they are and how others perceive them.”

But those numbers can increase, depending on factors like location, sex and ethnicity. For example, in February 2015, the Cyberbullying Research Center conducted a random sampling of one Midwestern middle school and found that 34.4 percent of its population had experienced cyberbullying (in the form of receiving hurtful comments and



For all-star cheerleaders, incidents of cyberbullying are frequently connected to other cheer athletes at competing programs. This has been the experience of Lauren Gurske, founder of Altamonte Springs, FL-based Fuel Athletics. “Athletes from this [nearby local] gym like to post comments on our [social media] posts about how their gym is better, how we are a ‘janky gym,’ how all of our athletes look bad, how they hope we get injured,” said Gurske. One of her athletes even reported eating lunch in the restroom at school to avoid run-ins with her cyber-attacker. When Gurske reached out to those athletes’ coaches to resolve the situation, her complaints were ignored. As a result, the bullying continued.

Our interviewed sources believe cooperation among gyms is the key to stopping cyberbullying among cheerleaders. Their experiences show that when gyms are proactive in confronting and disciplining the cyberbullies, the harassment stops. When gyms turn a blind eye, however, the harassment continues and may even escalate. “Kids do what will get them approval from their peers. So when they see their coaches behaving a certain way, or when they see coaches encouraging that kind of mentality, the athletes by default will try to emulate that,” said Gurske. All also agree that another crucial step is the implementation of a zero tolerance bullying policy. This policy should outline expectations of the athlete’s behavior online and offline; strict consequences for violating the agreement, including dismissal; and steps to make reparations with the victim(s) and gym(s). As for how to handle the posts themselves? Poirier advises to “deal with the situation immediately.” Standard operating procedures should include:

• Close monitoring of the team’s presence on social media sites and that of your athletes. • Documentation of all incidents of cyberbullying, with records kept on file. Once incidents are documented, deleting any mean posts or comments ASAP. • Instructing your gym members to refrain from responding to mean comments/ posts. Says Poirier, this only “feeds the fire.” • For instances that pose a real threat to your athlete(s) or that cannot be resolved through the above means, contact your local police immediately. In many states, cyberbullying is considered a crime and is punishable by law. Ultimately, says Fuller, it comes down to this: “We need to instill a sense of humanity and compassion in our kids so they understand that their words have meaning, and their actions can have consequences.”

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threats of violence via digital devices). Moreover, other reputable studies show a strong correlation between victimization and reports of depression. Additional consequences for the victim may include anxiety, loss of sleep, health problems, poor grades, and, at its worst, violence toward others and/or suicide.



Spotlight on:

Justin Carrier by Britni de la Cretaz

This Varsity VP has a day that’s probably way longer than yours. 5:00 am to 6:30 am: I have two kids under the age of one, so I get up whenever they want me to get up, usually during this time frame (but hopefully closer to 6:30 am). I give both of them their bottles and take them to the babysitter’s [place] at 7:30 am. 8:20 am: I get to the office and make my morning breakfast, since I eat at work. I always have chocolate banana oatmeal (one serving of quick oats, one scoop of chocolate protein powder and sliced banana). After my second son was born in December, I made it a priority to get back in shape, so I meal prep 85 percent of the meals I eat. It’s the best way for me to eat healthy and save time, given my hectic schedule. I’ve lost a notable amount of weight since January— just hoping this lifestyle change can stick long-term! 8:30 am: I start responding to coaches’ emails that have come in since the day before. Mostly, I get questions about scoring and athlete eligibility. This summer, Varsity All Star is launching an educational campaign that will help answer lots of coaches’ questions. 10:00 am: I meet with my NCA team once per day and touch base with the All-Star team once per day. Noon: During event season, I don’t take a lunch; I just eat at my desk. Afternoon: During my workday, I usually divide my time between executing this year’s events while trying SPRING 2016 PAGE 44 WWW.THECHEERPROFESSIONAL.COM

to simultaneously plan for next season’s events and handle any scoring concerns that come up. I spend a lot of time on phone with our scoring committee; we talk about the most frequently asked questions and concerns around our scoring system and judging.

5:00 pm: I can’t stay late anymore now that I’ve got two kids, so I leave the office by 5:00 pm with my laptop and pick up the kids from daycare. 6:15 pm: Once I’m home, I make dinner for the family and feed them. My kids are still both really young; Caleb is 10 months old and Cody is 3 months old. Caleb just learned how to walk, so I spend a lot of time chasing him. He also knows how to roll the ball back and forth—looking forward to the day we get to play catch. Cody is just now starting to wake up. He’s easy to make laugh these days, so I spend a lot of time trying. When I run out of songs to sing to him, I often break out into cheers and chants. For what it’s worth, he responds best to College Game Day cheers. 8:00 pm: The kids go to sleep by 8 pm—hopefully. During the next two hours, I try to work out for 30 minutes, answer any emails that have come in and lay out the following morning’s clothes, food and snacks. 10:30 pm: I feed my 3-month-old one last time. 11:00 pm: In bed by 11!

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