Professionalism, the importance of checks and balances and family are three of the moral tenets that ACX Cheer owner Randy Dickey lives by. Actually, if it were up to him to reorder those terms, family would come first, specifically Dickey’s wife Amie (whom he met in college at an Atlanta honky-tonk) and his 9-year-old daughter Macie.
“I honestly think that, in cheerleading, the way you treat your family will show through in your character in the industry,” he says. “[When] people treat their family bad, disrespect their marriages or do things like that, [that behavior] says a lot about who they are in the industry. I believe that your family comes first.”
A proponent of honesty and accountability in cheer, Dickey started the All-Star Gym Owners Association in 2008 as a free resource group for gym owners to share knowledge and obtain group discounts through volume buying. However, it soon turned into a respected outlet to vent concerns about the industry and, eventually, somewhat of a renegade watchdog group.
Specifically, in 2012, after new rules were handed down two weeks before Worlds—including one limiting the tumbling skills allowed (thereby reducing a revenue stream for gyms)—owners took to the ASGA Facebook page in droves. The complaints culminated in a giant conference call beyond anything Dickey could have imagined: “We anticipated having 50 people on the phone call, and we had over 1,000 show up,” he says. “Everyone was listening, and people were taking turns talking. It was refreshing to see that much interest and passion in the sport and our rules.”
As the number of ASGA members grew, the grassroots group began to sway the industry’s governing bodies and apparel companies. “If something is not right for the industry, truly just not right or not fair, they’re going to listen to 1,500 people a lot more than they would just one gym…so it’s kind of like checks and balances,” Dickey says.
Despite the organization’s efforts to influence rules, vendors and event producers, Dickey still considers the knowledge shared among gym owners the group’s biggest achievement. At retreats and on the ASGA Facebook page, they discuss everything from how to deal with irate parents to how help athletes push past tumbling plateaus to how to organize fundraisers.
The collective goal? Longevity. “[Fellow ASGA leader] Courtney [Smith-Pope] and I want to make sure the industry is still around when our kids take over the gym,” Dickey says. “There’s an astounding rate of gyms going out of business, and we like to think we’re reducing that.”
Dickey’s own road to cheerleading was an unconventional one—he was on both the football and the wrestling teams at his high school until he injured his arm during junior year right before state championships. (He still competed, with his arm taped to his body.) The next year, everything changed for Dickey. He intended to play football as planned, but an athletic director dissuaded him because he wasn’t getting a scholarship in the sport. “Well, what am I supposed to do to stay in shape?” Dickey remembers asking him. As far as Dickey was concerned, cross-country was definitely out. “[I considered] running a punishment,” Dickey says. “I just figured that something similar to wrestling would be gymnastics.”
After he saw a VCR tape of a UCA summer camp, where the guys were stunting with women, Dickey was sold on cheerleading. He joined the squad his senior year of high school and scored both a wrestling and cheer scholarship to Georgia State. Post-college, he worked at Pro Cheer and later opened locations for industry veteran Tate Chalk.
Now Dickey not only owns ACX Cheer Gyms with two locations, but also produces his own cheer music—taking inspiration from his saxophonist father (who played with acts such as Aretha Franklin and The Drifters) and sometimes using his daughter’s voice on tracks. Next up: he’s planning to franchise ACX, a brand he’s worked hard to perfect.
“I don’t want to own any more facilities, per se,” he says. “However, if people want to take the business model that I have, use our name and have weekly meetings via Skype, [I’m willing to] just have my own private kind of gang, so to speak, of ACX gyms. They would own them and do their thing and just pay a monthly fee to run it like we do, and they can reap the benefits. I think that [approach] is a good, safe place to go for me, one that will help secure my future and basically help me enable gyms to stay successful that may have struggled.”
That hard-won reputation in the industry and desire to help other gyms grow is especially important to Dickey for personal reasons. “The reason I’m so passionate about cheerleading is because of everything that it’s given my family,” he says. “I’ve really never had any other job, so…without cheerleading, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, with the family that I have or the home [that we own]. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving back—because of what it’s done for me.”