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.
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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.
But what happens when a parent isn’t supportive?
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 more »
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.
After running Angel Phyre All Stars in Larkspur, Colorado, for three seasons, owner Jessica Maynard was focused on the future. She moved into a huge new facility, bought an $18,000 spring floor—and then took a good, hard look at her financials and decided it was more practical to close the gym than to start a new season. See what Maynard had to say about how everything changed so fast, and what she learned along the way.
Early on, I started coaching and judging in Mexico—that’s how it all started for me. Now the events have grown so big it’s hard for me to attend all of them, so I have gotten a lot of people to go judge over there. The places making the biggest progress with cheer are Mexico and Canada, and in many cases, they’ll pay what you are worth in the U.S. In some instances, you can actually make a fair amount of money.
Some might say Jessica Bugg Smith is doing everything wrong at her Danville, KY-based gym, Kentucky Reign All-Stars. Somehow though, things are going very right. Instead of going the group-classes-with-additional-private-coaching route, Kentucky Reign primarily offers one-on-one time with coaches, with all-star athletes practicing together as a group a couple of hours a week. It was a risky move, but one that has paid off. Since making the change in August, Kentucky Reign’s roster doubled within months.
“It has been amazing,” says Smith, a Danville native. “Our kids are getting more one-on-one attention, and we are able to get results faster that way.”
Hannah is a typical 15-year-old cheerleader. She spends eight hours a day at school, comes home to do her homework and then heads to the gym for cheer practice. With exhaustion setting in, she picks up an energy drink on the way to give the boost she needs to get through the grueling schedule of stretching, stunts, tumbling and dance. Sound familiar? It’s a common practice with many athletes—and cheer professionals, too.
But do energy drinks even work?
When most cheerleading coaches decide to open their own gyms, they do it for love of the sport, a desire to make a difference with young athletes, a competitive drive to be the best. They don’t do it because they love chasing down accounts every month, but that’s exactly what they’ll have to do if they want their gym to stay open.
“One gym called us for advice and was $100,000 in the hole,” says Tanya Roesel, owner of Midwest Cheer Elite. “And I was like, how did you get there? People will pay what they have to pay for. If you let them think they’re at the bottom of the ladder, they will treat you like that.”
Imagine this scenario: you shell out thousands to hire a highly recommended choreographer to come into your gym and teach your squad a new routine. Your athletes show up, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to learn an array of skills to show off at their upcoming competition. But mere minutes into rehearsal, it’s clear that the more »
Imagine a pyramid of cheerleaders that morphs into a human poker player dealing blackjack, Las Vegas-style. How about a pyramid of cheerleaders whose uniforms suddenly transform into hockey jerseys in a straight up homage to a hip-hop dance crew, or an all Lady Gaga-themed routine?
Luckily, cheer fans don’t have to imagine such curious and jaw-dropping spectacles. Jamie Parrish makes them happen.
The Love family is practically cheer royalty—maybe gymnastics guru Debbie Love has visited your gym, or you’ve seen cheerlebrities Whitney and Britni Love kicking butt on the mat. But how well do you know Tiffany Love Anestis?
As Total Cheer’s gym manager, Love Anestis coaches eight teams from Tiny to Level 5 at the Bowling Green, KY-based program (where her husband also serves as tumbling director). She has also conducted clinics all over the world with her mother. The concept of family is clearly important to her and present in all her work, even as she embarks on a second career in sonography.
In 2007, Newsweek covered the growing popularity of cheerleading outside of the United States, citing globalization as a major factor. They attributed this spread to the fact that ESPN International has been showing U.S. competitions globally since 1997. They also credited movies like Bring It On as reasons for cheer’s popularity in places like Japan and Australia. Add to that the fact that NFL teams brought along cheerleaders when they played overseas, and “you get a wave of kids attracted to modern cheerleading’s athleticism and élan.”
Nine years later, this trend is stronger than ever before, and it’s evident at Worlds—in 2015, teams from Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, England and Thailand placed right up there with the leading U.S. competitors. The number of countries participating has quadrupled since 2007 and is expected to hit 40 countries in 2016.
Ever seen a team of all-star athletes wholeheartedly cheering for their competitors? It might look strange to an outsider, but anyone with a sister gym relationship understands. After all, when gyms forge close relationships, it creates a unique bond like no other. The owners and coaches lean on each other for support, referrals and resources, and the athletes get to know each other and cheer each other on. Just ask Fury Athletics of Madison, 3-D Elite Allstars and North Florida Christian Cheer—all of whom know firsthand how much having a sister gym can offer.
Sometimes a merger can be the kiss of death for a business. That, however, was far from the case with East Celebrity Elite, which formed after East Elite and Celebrity decided to join forces in 2009. Since the union, the program has become stronger than ever.
“I think the thing that really helped us get to the next level is that we had different ways of performing,” says Cassie Bienvenue, one of ECE’s four female owners. “East Elite at the time was very technical; Celebrity was more focused on choreography and entertaining the audience,” she explains. So when the two forces came together, it combined the best of both worlds.
When Brandon Hale looks out at the practice mat at North Carolina-based Cheer Extreme Allstars, he wants to see athletes focused on tumbling, twisting and training—not distracted by drama. So when a trio of troublemakers threatened to take the focus away from what matters, Hale knew he couldn’t let it slide. “These girls just sat at the back of the mat, creating drama,” remembers Hale, who acts as head coach and head of choreography for the high-profile gym. One girl in particular “had a lot of insecurities and hung out with the wrong people on the team, who were more negative.”
Sound familiar? Whether it’s jealousy that erupts among team members, animosity causing a divide or lazy attitudes tainting the work ethic, bad attitudes can create a harmful ripple effect—and affect the team’s performance throughout the season. The good news is that it’s never too late to set the tone as a gym owner and/or coach and take action that will nip the negativity in the bud. Check out these strategies, which can turn such challenges into team-building opportunities.
In the cheer business, “gym hopping” is considered a four-letter word. Whether it’s an athlete that wants to trade up to a larger gym or a parent who wants her child to be a featured flyer, families make the switch for a variety of reasons—but often find that the grass isn’t any greener on the other side. And for gym owners, it can result in loss of income, bad blood with clients and issues preparing for competition.
So how can gym owners recognize the signs early on and improve retention? Get some ideas from gym owners at Rockstar Cheer, Myrtle Beach All-Stars and Power All Stars.
When it comes to team moms, Beth Mundell has her system down pat. Mundell’s team rep program at Fyrestorm Cheer has been in place since the gym first opened four years ago. Currently, the gym has 10 team reps spread across six all-star teams and two rec teams—depending on the age, size, and needs of more »
Fundraising is a challenge all gyms face, but done right, it can be an exciting, memorable experience for everyone involved. For inspiration, we’re interviewing gym owners who’ve found ways to put the “fun” in fundraising. Case in point: Mansfield, OH-based Spirit Ohio All Stars, which runs a Sponsor My Uniform fundraiser. Gym owner Steve Fuller spoke with us about why he thinks it’s something every gym should do.
If what happened in Vegas actually stayed in Vegas, then Greenville, South Carolina’s Rockstar Cheer and Dance might not be where it is today. After all, it was a 2007 visit to Sin City—specifically the Hard Rock Hotel—that inspired owner Scott Foster and his wife, Kathy, to pick a unique theme for their gym that was “different and out of the box,” says Foster.
Out of the jukebox is more like it. Every team at all seven Rockstar gym locations is named after a rock band, and Foster doesn’t discriminate one genre over others. There are teams named for classic bands, like the Small Senior Level 5 Queen and the Large Junior Level 3 Heartbreakers. Then there’s The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Journey, Nirvana, Poison, No Doubt and the Dixie Chicks. Plus, there’s a team called The Wiggles and a few nods to the 80’s, including Vanilla Ice.
Talk about balance—Alicia Zito isn’t just 2015’s Eastern Cheer & Dance Association’s “Cheer Coach of the Year,” but also a choreographer, judge, mom and a full-time attorney. When not practicing law, Zito runs the Reading, PA-based gym Rebels Elite, which currently has just over 90 athletes. CheerProfessional caught up with Zito between the court and the competition mat for a candid Q&A session.
After months of practice, “Heather” had mastered every skill in her routine and her timing was perfect. But once she hit the mat during competition, her face went blank and she froze mid-step. Although she’d been involved with cheer from the age of five, she still experienced periodic bouts of performance anxiety, especially at key moments.
Heather isn’t alone—the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that about eight percent of teens age 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder. In many cases, a certain amount of anxiety can be beneficial, providing an effective way to handle a difficult situation. But excessive anxiety can, in certain circumstances, become disabling, and for cheer teams, too much anxiety could spell serious trouble.
It’s every gym owner’s nightmare: put your trust in team moms, and then see that trust betrayed in a big way. Few know that better than the Ohio Pink Panthers, who made headlines in 2014 when a team mom allegedly collected $310 per cheerleader for new uniforms, then disappeared with $6,500 of gym parents’ money. More common are less extreme cases, which are often a matter of team moms being too opinionated or overstepping their boundaries—leading to drama, miscommunication and often one big headache for the gym staff.
Luckily, not all experiences with team moms turn out to be so devastating. In many cases, team moms become a coach’s right hand and trusted confidante. So what makes the difference? Choosing the right people.
“If you’re not prepared to put TEAM first, turn around.”
dworldfrontThis is the motto of ICE All-Stars, and a slogan that hangs on a banner in the windows of all three of Darlene Fanning’s Illinois- and Indiana-based gym locations. It’s a mentality that’s gotten the ICE program founder far since launching her first location in 1996. “Next year will be our 20th anniversary,” says Fanning, who got her start as a high school coach before making the transition to the all-star world.d
At Midwest Cheer Elite’s Lima, Ohio location, a cheer dad approaches a wall covered in Post-Its and takes one that says “Band-Aids.” When he goes to the store later that day, he’s not just buying the gym something they need, he’s earning an entry into Midwest Cheer Elite’s contest for a month of free tuition. Many gyms use contests like this one to engage athletes and their families and generate excitement—and, more often than not, it works.
It’s the health trend du jour—everyone seems to be talking about bone broth. And if it’s not on the radar of your athletes and staff yet, maybe it should be. Advocates rave about the drink’s healing properties, and high-profile athletes like Kobe Bryant swear by it. But does bone broth live up to the hype?
Prior to taking the floor for a 2010 competition, former Shine Athletics owner Sydney McBride wrangled her team into the warm-up room where they did a quick final run-through of their routine. Everything was right on schedule, until an unexpected accident occurred. One of McBride’s girls tumbled to the floor, landing on her arm and suffering an open break. The injured all-star cheerleader was scared, in pain and lying on the floor—unable to lift her limb. Someone dialed 911, but it took a full 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
“In those types of situations, when an athlete is in pain, 15 minutes can feel like an hour,” says McBride. “The venue was in a remote area, and there were no medical personnel on site. We just had to sit there with her and wait!”
Fundraising is a challenge all gyms face, but done right, it can be an exciting, memorable experience for everyone involved. For inspiration, we’re interviewing gym owners who’ve found ways to put the “fun” in fundraising. Meet Josh Filiault, owner of Troy, AL-based Xtreme Athletics. For the past four years, Filiault and his team have organized a highly successful zombie-themed 5K run, raising as much as $25,000.
For Pam Duke, owner of Nor’Eastern Storm, recognition as USASF’s 2015 “Small Program of the Year” means everything. It’s validation of her vision, dedication, perseverance and aspirations. The only problem is that she doesn’t operate like a small gym—which just might be the key to her success.
Going into her 10th year, Duke has learned a thing or two about how to succeed in the all-star cheer industry despite living in an area with limited population. Located on the eastern shore of Maryland, an area that does not realistically have enough potential athletes to support a large gym, Duke makes the most of what she’s got…and that’s a lot.
On the surface, it sounds like a great idea: provide a specially designated room where parents can watch cheer practice and see the hard work their kids are putting in. But some gym owners say that introducing a parent viewing area can open doors that remain better closed—and invite unwelcome feedback and drama. So what will work for your gym? We interviewed several gym owners to get their take.
At the start of the 2015-2016 season, we wanted to know: what are your business and team goals for the upcoming year? CheerProfessional polled gym owners and coaches from around the country to find out. See what cheer pros from Ultimate Allstars, ACX Twisters, and more had to say.
Considering a new name, new space or new approach? These changes can shake up your gym and open up new possibilities. We spoke with Allyson Moore, owner of Okemah, OK-based Victory Elite Athletics, about her decision to move to a new city and focus only on tiny/junior teams rather than offering senior teams.
One year ago, Nebraska Cheer Center relocated to a brand-new facility, and co-owners Dusty and Nicki Baker decided to incorporated a pro shop within the space. Says Nicki, “Having the space to do it really motivated us to open the shop and get things started.” Find out how they got the shop up and running in this installment of “Owner’s Manual!”
What does it take to win our “Coach of the Year” competition? In Denise Ginocchi’s case, it was the heartfelt testimony of her athletes, who praised the Beloit, Ohio resident for pushing them to be their best and being generous with her time and effort—but also for having the ability to go from “laughing and hugging” her team to “conditioning with no mercy.”
That determined work ethic is what spurred Ginocchi’s West Branch High School competitive cheer team on to kudos like third place at the 2015 AmeriCheer Internationals, seventh place at Ohio’s state competition, and series grand champion at their local CheerTime competition.
Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar: a parent pulls you aside after practice and says, “According to my research, your competition fees are too high.” Chances are, if you’re a gym owner, you’ve been there—more than once. With so much information readily available online, many parents are doing their own due diligence to find out what competitions really cost, but they may not always understand the bigger picture. So what’s the best way to handle concerned parents who research fees online and compare them to the fees charged by your gym?
Considering a new name, new space or new approach? These changes can shake up your gym and open up new possibilities. We spoke with Kristin Perrin, owner of Central, LA-based Central Community Athletics, about her experience taking on a new gym name and two new co-owners. See what she has to say about the changes and how she’s reinvented her gym.
The wildly popular CheerUPDATES Twitter feed started off simply enough. DJ Yeager, then a coach for the now-shuttered Galaxy program, was traveling to the Majors in 2012, and his athletes wanted play-by-play updates from the competition. “I didn’t want to send out a ton of text messages,” says Yeager. “I decided to start a Twitter account instead.” Word spread quickly, and by the end of that first evening, CheerUPDATES accumulated 500 followers.
When hiring new staff, Kevin Spencer of Southern Kentucky Athletics follows the same litmus test as Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg, asking himself, “Would I work for this person?” If the answer is no, then the coaching candidate doesn’t make the cut.
Pretty cut-and-dried, but hiring isn’t always so simple. Finding coaches that demonstrate proper technique, are responsible and share the same values as your gym can often prove to be a tall task. So how do you go about staffing your facility with top-notch talent? We picked the brains of some of the best in the industry to get their secrets on coach recruitment.
Chesapeake, Ohio is set on the banks of the Ohio River. At last count, less than 1,000 people live in the tiny town, steeped in railway history. Stuck halfway between the two bridges that connect the town to its neighbor Huntington, West Virginia is Jill’s Tumbleworld. Owned by Jill Greenhill, the gym plays home to the Dreams All Stars and more than 350 athletes, some of whom travel two hours to train. When the girls and boys, coaches and trainers head home after a rigorous practice, they can be seen squeezing one another’s hands three times. Later, there will be a flurry of texts and social media posts that read simply, “Sqx3.”
The conversation about redistributing small gym and large gym numbers to level out the playing field of the all-star industry began two years ago at USASF regional meetings. Today, it has become USASF’s newest initiative for the 2015-2016 season.
USASF will assign gyms in Division I or Division II—previously large gym and small gym, respectively—based on the program’s total number of traditional All Star and All Star Prep athletes. A Division I gym has 126 or more traditional All Star and All Star Prep cheerleaders enrolled in their program, while a Division II gym has 125 or less.
Off-season can be a slow time, but Kansas City Athletic Cheer has found a way to keep up the competitive momentum: stunt charades. “The athletes come up with stunts and act out a theme, like a movie or a favorite summer activity,” explains KCAC owner Johanna Lucas. (Picture a Frozen theme where one stunt group has an “Ella”-esque flyer freeze the other group with choreographed arm motions, or a Brave Little Toaster-themed basket toss.) Adds Lucas, “This gives our girls the opportunity to show off skills that they’ve worked on throughout the year and to come together as a team to try out new things.”
This is just one of many ways in which Lucas and her staff keep their teams engaged, and it shows—KCAC’s program has doubled in size over the past three years.
Running a gym takes stamina, patience, resilience and the ability to multi-task like a superhero. Add a pro shop into the mix and things get even more hectic—and, if it’s managed well—even more rewarding.
Many gyms start pro shops to sell team merchandise and cheer-related items in an effort to supplement the revenue that comes from running all-star teams and classes. Though it can feel like yet another thing to add to an already very full plate, pro shops can be a huge moneymaker and help increase the profile of the gym. It takes physical space (unless the shop is online-only), manpower and the ability to juggle a side business, but for many gym owners, the sacrifices are well worth it.
High school is a busy time for competitive athletes, particularly at the start of junior year when attention turns to college. That vital next step comes with a hearty to-do list: SATs, letters of recommendation, college visits and applications. And if you’re a cheerleader, that list includes another big question: what’s next in my cheer career? While the answer may seem simple (collegiate cheer), the process is not. That’s why CheerProfessional reached out to several coaches to gather a helpful list of do’s for gym owners and coaches alike.
With eight cheer gyms within a 30-minute drive of Beaverton, plus five more for a little extra gas money, it’s no small claim when Oregon Dream Teams calls itself the fastest-growing gym of its kind in the state. The region’s saturated cheer gym market also means that bringing new athletes through the doors is no small feat. So it’s somewhat surprising that Tori and Dan Cotton decided to take a minimal marketing approach when they purchased Oregon Dream Teams during the 2011-2012, letting their product speak for itself. But the gamble paid off: the result was a second location within two years—and twice as many athletes.
With so many business books on the market, how can you decipher between dead air and dead-on? We asked five gym owners to share their trusted tomes they used for building their cheer businesses. Check out our list to find one that will work for you.
The Ultimate Athletics Gems program first launched in October 2008 and is now in its seventh season. Both cheer and dance are offered for the gym’s 45 special needs athletes, along with the opportunity to compete at Cheersport and perform at local exhibitions. CheerProfessional spoke with gym owner Craig El about the growth of their program and his advice for others looking to follow suit.
You know the ones: those gyms who have instantly recognizable logos, unmistakable choreography and/or a name that’s known all over the cheer world. Many of the most successful gyms in the industry get there by cultivating a strong brand that suits their product perfectly. To find out how to build a massively effective brand, we spoke with three gyms who’ve done just that: Maryland Twisters, California All Stars and Top Gun. See our second installment with Tannaz Emamjomeh of California All Stars!
“Begin at the beginning”—a simple concept, but one that works well for coach Jodi Kandl in her work with the all-star cheer teams at Cheergyms.com, including its special needs team, Sparkle. “Every athlete that walks in the gym learns differently, whether they are on the special needs team or not,” says Jodi Kandl.
They say when one door closes, another one opens. In Jessica Moltisanti’s case, the 2009 economic downturn and her husband’s sudden unemployment was just the catalyst Moltisanti needed to open the doors at Zone Cheer All Stars. Since then, Zone has grown from one team of 16 athletes to nine teams with more than 300 athletes. Despite such a meteoric rise, however, Moltisanti never wavered from her commitment to a powerful trifecta: dedication to the sport, an educator’s background and a fierce, former cheerleader’s spirit. Learn more about this rising cheer entrepreneur in our candid Q&A.
Late uniform delivery, missing music, and flaky vendors, oh my! If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Choosing a qualified vendor for uniforms, music or choreography can be a lot like speed dating—there is much information to process in a short amount of time and, even if you are hopeful about the relationship more »