The Announcement that Changed Cheer Forever.

This article appears in the January 2017 edition of Cheer.Dance.Lyfe magazine. To get a copy of the magazine click HERE.

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On Tuesday, December 6th 2016 The cheer universe was changed forever. The announcement that Cheerleading has finally been validated and recognized as a true Olympic Sport finally was announced. This was a huge announcement for the world of cheerleading.

The International Cheer Union (ICU) was granted provisional International Olympic Committee recognition for a period of three years by the Executive Board. More importantly, if everything goes well, competitive cheerleading can now be included in the upcoming Olympic programs. No longer will you have to defend the sport we all love as a “real sport”.

Founded in 2004 and headquartered in the United States, the International Cheer Union began its journey to be recognized six years ago when it first applied to the International Olympic Committee. The ICU's mission is to positively advance cheerleading throughout the world. The organization has steadily built its membership and now has 110 National Cheer Federation members.

Via the Press Release of the announcement:

"The IOC's actions have created a monumental milestone for cheerleading. We are truly honored to receive this recognition by the Executive Board of the IOC," said Jeff Webb, President of the International Cheer Union. "This decision will greatly assist us as we strive to create opportunities for healthy participation and competition for millions of Cheer athletes worldwide."

Many questions quickly arose, as this decision caught many off guard. The initial US news reports failed miserably in properly reporting that competitive Cheer that had just been validated as a sport. The old perceptions of Cheerleading prevailed and the news media did not properly capture the essence of competitive cheer. The competitive cheer community quickly responded. You could feel the collective heads raise and the welling up in pride from the cheer community around the world. No one has to argue anymore, Cheer is now a sport.

 

Confusion and excitement quickly set in within the Cheerleading community as well. The many variations of competitive cheer began to ask questions. What happens now? How is this going to work? Is this going to change Worlds as we know it? How can I get involved to be an Olympic Champion one day?  

 

I visited The Stingray Allstars in Marietta, Georgia to get some insight from some of the Youth and Junior teams who are now in the middle of their competition season. A few had heard of the huge announcement, most had not. The look on the faces of the athletes once they learned they could potentially be in the Olympic Games someday was priceless. Many dropped the names of the famous athletes of the recently completed 2016 Rio Summer games. The teams shared names like

Simone Biles, Ali Raisman the Final 5, Michael Phelps and other athletes were shared. Needless to say the Allstar Cheerleading gym was buzzing with excitement of the news.

The Stingray Allstars Red Rays with Torch from the 2012 London Olympic Games
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Many in America and abroad are familiar with the Allstar format of Worlds and Summit. Olympic Cheer will be represented by the International Cheer Union. The ICU federation is based in America but will represent teams from all over the world.  

 

As a father with two daughters who has defended the authenticity of this sport vehemently, I decided to find out how all this works in hopes to educate all involved. I was fortunate enough to speak with some incredible athletes that have already represented The US National Team.

 

Below is a question and answer from my interview with Patrick and Julia Miller who have represented the US National Team. The couple has represented our country over the past few years and have been instrumental in paving the way for US National athletes for years to come. I wanted to share couples experience in hopes to share as much of the potential Olympic cheer experience as possible.
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Julia Miller- USA Cheer  2014-2016

Q: What was the cheerleading path that led you to compete on the US National Team ?

A: “ When I was younger I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years and always had a passion to compete. In college, I cheered at UCF.  While cheering in college and attending events such as the NCA and UCA College nationals. I learned about the US National Team. I tried out and made the Co-Ed squad and was on The team from 2014-15-16.”

 

Q: “ What was it like to represent USA Cheer at the ICU Worlds?

A: “It was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. It was so amazing to be surrounded by such amazing talent from all over the world. Each of the teams work so hard and are so passionate about what they do.”

 

Q: Many people will know about the talent from the US National Team. What are some of the International teams we should keep our eye on?

A: “Great question! There are so many incredible teams from around the world. With the popularity of Cheer growing at an amazing pace, the teams are improving all the time. If you are a young athlete you should certainly be keeping you eye on Team Norway, Team Netherlands, Team UK and Team Canada. There are so many teams to name. The talent is absolutely amazing around the world.”

 

Q: What does the US National Team tryout process look like?

A: “The process has changed recently and you can find that information on the US National cheer website. Previously, tryouts were held the day after the UCA College Nationals. You have to be ready to go immediately. It is important to be a well-rounded athlete and strong in all facets of cheer. You only get one shot to try a skill in tryouts. You either hit it or you don’t. The coaches will ask you to complete a stunt or tumbling pass. If you can’t do it the first time, they move on to the next. You have to be poised and ready. You are competing against the best athletes in the nation from many different disciplines.”
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Patrick Miller- USA Cheer  2010- 2016

 

Q:  What was the cheerleading path that led you to compete on the US National Team?

 

A: “In high school, I began playing football, but started Cheerleading in the 10th grade. I went on to Cheer for the University of Kentucky for one year and then transferred to cheer at the University of Alabama for four years. I tried out for the US National team six years ago and fell in love with it, and have been doing it ever since.”

 

Q: You have been on The US National Team for six years. What would be you advice to up and coming Cheerleaders who have a dream to compete on the USA Cheer?

A: “The most important aspect of cheering for The US National team as Julia mentioned,  is being a well-rounded athlete. While many may focus on being an exceptional tumbler or on stunting, it is very important to be exceptional in both. You have to be able to pick up things quickly as practice time is very limited. The competition is incredible and the emphasis on assembling the best routine in the world is imperative.”

 

Q: You mention limited practice time. Most reading this will be familiar with the Allstar gym practice structure. How exactly does that work?  I imagine you have athletes represented from all over the United States. How does the US National team practice?

A: “Many of us are already practicing on a daily basis with our respective teams in college. We actually will share ideas in the team GroupMe. The coaches will send out concepts they are thinking about or asking us to perfect. The coaches spend months coordinating flights and practice facilities for the team. We will all share our ideas and work to perfect them multiple hours in the gym during the week. Once we get closer to the ICU Worlds, the entire team assembles two weeks before and works to perfect the routine. It is an extremely grueling and exhausting process, but that is what it takes to create one of the most competitive routines in the world.”

 

  1. What is an international team other than the US National team that has impressed you?

A: “All of the team's Julia mentioned earlier are amazing. The group that always impresses me is Team Chinese/Taipei. The coed routine they assembled that won them the Gold a few years back was absolutely mind blowing. I also love watching Team Thailand they continue to amaze the world with their incredible stunts and pyramids. I look forward to watching them year in and year out.”

2016 USA Cheer  Coed Premier

As more information about this announcement emerges one thing is for sure. The announcement that Cheerleading is now recognized as an official Olympic sport has changed cheer forever. The announcement will raise the bar for every aspiring athlete who dares to dream big to be an Olympic champion. We can now close the book on the debate of the sport being valid. Although we are not naive enough to believe there will not be skeptics, we can now use our athleticism, work ethic, and execution to continue to prove the doubters wrong.  

 

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Cheerleading is an Olympic Sport – Now What?

Today the Cheer world received exciting news that it has been approved by the IOC to be included as an official Olympic Sport. You can view the official announcement here. What exactly does this mean? For the immediate future it means that ICU will receive funding for further development. Cheer is expected to be fully approved as an Olympic sport within 3 years. After that, the sport can be included in the Olympic Games. Will this happen in time for Tokyo 2020 ? Probably not. Might it happen in time for the potential bid cities that are applying for the Summer Games in 2024? (Los Angeles, Paris, Budapest) maybe!

You may have heard of the term the ICU ( International Cheer Union) it represents 110 member nations around the world. It is based in Memphis, TN the same city as one of your favorite cheer companies. The governing body is also been driven by a name in cheer you will recognize ( pstt it’s Varsity). If you are interested in learning what the Olympic cheer world will look like, I would invite you to visit the ICU site here. Notice many of the divisions look very similar to the current Allstar divisions. All of this is very exciting and the evolution of the sport will continue to evolve and grow.

PHOTO OF THE ICU WORLDS

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What does this mean for the average Allstar Cheerleader (Club Cheer as it is commonly referred outside the states)? Not much at this time. There will be quite a bit of work that needs to be done until we finally see the sport included in an Olympic program. The exciting news is that the dream is now alive for many young athletes who have sacrificed to be at the top of their game. There will be a new generation of athletes that will have a new vision. To not only be a World champion but also be a potential Olympic Champion!

If you do the math, if you have a tiny, mini or even a young youth athlete they could potentially be in an Olympic Games representing their country. Team USA along with tons of other countries currently have teams that compete on the international scale. They get some recognition now, but it will only escalate as awareness will now climb to new levels. On the worldwide scale if you search for the international teams you will find some absolutely mind blowing routines.

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Keep in mind the best of the best will be sought out to represent each country. The ICU worlds will be held in Orlando this year in April 2017 you can view the site for the Championships HERE.

The most common question that I have heard is, “Will this replace the Worlds that we all know and love?” The answer is no. Keep in mind Allstar Cheer is a business model. Similar to travel baseball, volleyball, soccer etc.. they are club sports. Allstar cheer will always have its own World Championship / Summit. Olympic Cheer will have teams represented from each of the ICU disciplines (which you can view on their site).

Could this affect my Allstar team in the future? Most likely not, unless you have an exceptional athlete that has made the Team USA, UK, etc… Keep in mind there is already a Team USA  UK  etc..and there has been one for years.

Today’s news of Cheerleading becoming an Olympic sport is extremely exciting, but keep in mind, it will not change much in the near future. To think that one of the children on our favorite tiny, mini or youth teams could potentially be in an Olympic games is pretty cool. The most exciting take away from this is that we can all feel validated that Cheerleading is now considered an Olympic Sport. We will now get the opportunity to educate others on how exciting and powerful our sport can be and we no longer have to defend to athletic prowess our teams have. Hold your head high, work your tail off and you could potentially be an Olympic Champion. HOW DOES THAT SOUND!!

 

 

 

The Stingray Allstars- 15 Year Tribute Video

When you step back and think of the thousands of lives The Stingray Allstars  program has touched over the past 15 years, it can be overwhelming. What started out as a vision, has turned into an amazing culture that feeds off of love, hard work, dedication, sacrifice, but most important family.

While it is true, the program has been blessed with amazing success on the mats. From top to bottom,  no matter the age group or level, the amazing leadership within the walls of Stingrays sets a tone for our athletes from tiny all the way through our worlds teams. It begins and ends with the leadership we are blessed with.

The coaches are too humble to take recognition and will pass the success on to the athletes and families. Out of respect for the coaches and entire staff, I will not single you out, but we thank you and appreciate everything you do for our children. The coaching and support staff of the gym sets an undeniable tone and an expectation to do your best at all times and do it with class. This expectation defines the Stingray culture and builds normal athletes into extraordinary young men and women. It makes our little gym in Marietta, Ga truly “One of a Kind”

While it is simply impossible to capture 15 years of amazing in 4:54 secs. I hope you enjoy the hype video. Let’s have a great year and may we always keep the Stingray culture alive. Here’s to the next 15 years. You may want to turn this video up!

I present the Stingray Allstars 15 Year Tribute Video

Welcome to MintLand Review- From Dana Burkey

Hey everyone! Welcome to Mintland is officially one year old this week!!! As I reflect on the growth of the mini team that could, I can only smile as it has been quite a journey. This morning when I woke up, I noticed a tweet from author Dana Burkey. To my surprise, she did a review of Welcome to Mintland and did a great job summarizing the essence of the book. I was honored she took the time to read it, and floored that she completed a review. I know many of the Mint alumni are going to love seeing this review.

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Some of you may have heard about Dana’s amazing fiction series about the Allstar Cheerleading team TNT Force Cheer. The first book Learning to Fly is a fantastic read and as a father of a daughter who loves to read, I can tell you she absolutely loved it! I encourage everyone to check out the series. The second book is Reaching the Summit  she also has two more books Center Stage and Top of the Worlds to round out the series.

This series an extremely fun read for fans of Allstar Cheer. You can view the entire series along with her other great works HERE .

We all know that Allstar Cheerleaders don’t like to read. Remember that quote? If you don’t I can  refresh your memory by having you read  THIS

Here is the Welcome to Mintland Review from Author Dana Burkey!

Thanks Again Dana!!!

What to tell your Allstar Cheerleader after this election.

As parents, we have an incredible responsibility. This past election has taken a toll on many. Our children are watching. They have questions. We as parents have a responsibility to educate our children about the incredible freedoms we enjoy and privileged to have.

The morning after the election people were shocked, saddened, blindsided, overjoyed, validated and scared and paralyzed with fear. Many did not know how to react. Not many saw this coming. No matter where you stood in this election, we did our best to educate our children on the values each of us hold dear to our hearts. Increasingly, those values are vastly different, yet all important. During all of this,lessons were learned.

Many of our children went to bed with an idea of what was going to happen that night. Many woke up with a completely different perspective of how the world just changed. Some feel it is good, some felt is was bad. As we took to social media trying to make sense of everything, people vented, compassion ensued, humility was thrown out the window. Over the top paralyzing posts of hate littered the timelines along with inspiring words of hope and positivity. One question continued to turn up as I thumbed through my feeds.

“What am I supposed to tell my children in the morning?”

No matter where you stand with this past election, I hope we can agree that both candidates were very flawed. We as parents owe it to our children to give them an honest overview of each candidate (if, and only if they ask). With the varying ages, this overview will be filtered to some extent but is should be honest. If not, we are doing a huge disservice to our children who we unwillingly forced into the nasty business of politics at a very young age during this election.

The question kept rolling around in my head. If they asked, what would I tell my daughters? My wife and I were driving back from an appointment. We were stuck in traffic and she was killing time catching up on the latest social media for the week. She had been extremely busy at work and traveling for the week. She continued to stumble upon the same question. She dropped her phone in her lap looked over to me and said. “Why would people struggle for words on what to say to their kids in the morning after this election?” “The only words that matter: “Get your butt up, get your shoes on, and get dressed for school”

That was a very simple response to an extremely complicated issue. It is why I married my wife. She is amazing and incredible role model for my daughters. She has worked extremely hard to compete in a male-dominated field. In all these years, never once has she stated that she did not succeed or was held back because she was a woman. We know the reality of the situation, but she will not let it define her. I felt I needed to expand on the topic and thought of a few more things to tell my children in the morning.

  • NO ONE can hold you back in anything you set your mind to do.
  • Do your best in everything you do.
  • Be the change you want to see in your life and in the world.
  • Seek out positive role models and surround yourself with as many as possible.
  • Model those role models and reach out and love those that have lost their way.
  • Never underestimate anyone and treat everyone with respect.
  • Don’t be afraid to befriend those who are different from you, They will make you a better person.
  • Finally, get your butt to practice, listen to your coaches, be the best teammate possible and continue to do amazing things with your diverse, amazing team. Respect the legacy those before you have created, and make it better.  

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I am not naive enough to think that these simple words will fix all the complexities with this past election. As parents, the only thing we have control of is producing the best children we are capable of. That is in our control. That is how we create the change we all so desperately seek. It’s on us, make the change together by keeping it simple.

Because of Allstar Cheer, When you fall in love… I will know..

 

So when did it happen for you? Was it age 11? Was it age 4? Was it 6 or 7? When did all this madness begin? As a parent, we want our children to try new things. We want them to flourish and latch on to fun hobbies to help build character, skills, make friends and build lifetime memories. We want to teach our children values built through goal setting and hard work. All of this is achieved through the learning process and discovery. As a parent, I hope you know when special moments happened. Let me explain.

As a father of two daughters, the discovery process for activities started early for us. We started with the Little Gym as we found our daughters loved the engagement and activities involved. The motor skills and the early tumbling drills sparked an interest in both of my daughters. I could tell they “liked it”. We moved on to try dance. It was fun, they did their little steps and routines they learned coordination, timing, and 8 counts. They “liked it”. We then moved on to gymnastics. This really began to move the needle for them, they watched as the older kids flew through the air with such grace and practiced hard to learn each skill. We went to gymnastics for quite a while, they did ok. They “liked it”.

It was suggested that we take a look and try a gym that was relatively close to us. A gym that was known locally as a really good gym. That incorporated Cheer, Dance and Tumble. As I plotted along, I agreed to go visit the gym down the road from us. We were generously offered a free tumble class to see how my daughters liked the program. My oldest daughter wanted to cheer, so we signed her up to be on a team. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. While my oldest went to practice my little 4yr old went out to the free tumble class. She went out for about 30 minutes and the coaches worked with her. After about 35 minutes I noticed something very different, a look I had never seen before from my young daughter. An effervescent glow. She was high fiving the coaches and was completely amped up. The next thing I know, one of the coaches walked upstairs to talk to my wife. The coaches said they were very impressed with her skills and think she would be a great addition to the Grape Rays. I had no idea what that meant, but I could not get over the glow my daughter had. I agreed we could try out for the team and the coaches agreed to let her attend one of the early practices. We came back later in the week and within 10 minutes of being on the floor the bases had her up in the air in a “half” and she popped right up and hit her first “High V”. After that night, something drastically changed.

She “liked” everything. The tumbling, the structure, the dance, the stunts, the coaches. A few months later the Grape Rays would enter their first exhibition for the season. I was scared out of my mind for her. They took to the mats started their routine. They began with a flawless opening into the pyramid sequence. The bases hoisted her in the air. The crowd erupted in cheers and it was then I knew. The face a Father will never forget. The face of a little girl that just fell in love.

My daughter is too young to read and comprehend this article now. In twenty years she may stumble upon this blog post about the amazing Grape Rays that she was a part of. You may find a time in your life that you will find it in your heart to come and tell me you have found someone very special to you. When that time comes around, please know this. When you tell me about this special someone,  I will know the moment you mention the name of this person if you are genuinely in love. I will remember the little girl who I saw instantly fall in love with something special. It will look a little something like the picture below. The very moment, in this exact picture is when I knew.

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Grape Rays 2013 Circus Jam

Here we are three years later with an opportunity for your magical team to make a bit of history together. The friendships, bonds and experiences I know you will hold in your heart forever. Things will change and your passions may sway to other things. I will never forget the first forward roll, cartwheel, front and back walkover and back handspring. The elation in your face will be forever engrained in my heart. The lesson I am most proud of is that you are learning to be a great teammate.

In Allstar cheer you are unable to do anything without your teammates you are forced to work together to have success. I only hope one day you realize the amazing feats your coaches have trained you to do. They have believed in you and you have believed in your team. What makes this so serendipitously beautiful is that you do not even realize you are doing it together as a team. You just do it.

In whatever your future holds in Allstar cheer or anything else you choose to fall in love with. I hope you remember everything about your season. They say that Tiny cheerleaders do not get it. I can easily say that after watching your teams for the past three years I would take the heart, work ethic and fundamentals you have been taught and hold them as high as any other team out there. Your team has transcended “just being cute”. Your team is truly something special.You know what you are fighting for and you have been given the skills and  have earned the right to achieve your goals together with your team. I hope you wish upon a star and all of your dreams come true together as a team, if that does not happen I can honestly say you have done your best. Most importantly, you have had a ton of fun.

Things will begin to get harder and life will change, but I will never forget the heart and pure joy you display with all of your friends for the past three years on the amazing Grape Rays. So below I will share a little memento of your teams final journey. Your team did the impossible, you earned the prestigious Varsity Triple Crown winner for Level 1. As a Tiny team. I hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

Realizing there is absolutely no point to Allstar Cheerleading.

You have dedicated most of your childhood to this. You have climbed every rung up the Allstar Cheerleading ladder to master every skill possible. You have done your best to surround yourself with amazing teammates, coaches and a community that supports you in everything you do. You have fought through injury, you have worked through lack of God given talent to master the skills that come easy for others. You have pushed through the mental challenges that tell your body there is no way on earth anyone should be able to do this, but you do it.

You have stared down fear, you perform in front of thousands of people with the bright lights blaring and nowhere to run. You go to practice when you want to quit and feel horrible. You have been the underdog. You have felt the intense pressure of being a National Champion and trying to keep that title. You have felt and pushed through the incredible pressure from being on top of the world, and tried to stay there. Knowing that if you can execute through the intense pressure of everyone gunning for you, it will create the perfect diamond. You have sacrificed parties, dances, Proms, free time, ridicule, all to be the best at what you do with your teammates.

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You respect and admire the coaches that spend the majority of the time demanding excellence and screaming at you to get every ounce of effort and focus out of you. You hate them for it and love them all at the same time.You have been blessed to let your talents shine on that stage and you have reached the pinnacle of your craft. You have earned every right to jump on Twitter, FB, Insta or Snap and scream from the rooftop that you are the absolute best there is, but you don’t, because your parents and coaches have brought you up better than that.

You will reach a breaking point during all of this. After you have done all you can possibly do, there will be a time when you say to yourself, “There is absolutely no point to Allstar Cheerleading.” At about this time, I hope and pray with all my heart that you take a look around. I would also ask you to analyze some things. We know you are young and will make some mistakes, but I would ask you to think twice about your actions. Think about the power of social media. Think about the words you choose and the actions you take. When you hide behind that anonymous Twitter handle and spew hate and tear people down who have risen to the top of their craft. When you try to tear others down because you are tired and worn out from practice, school, other responsibilities. When you are frustrated that others are getting the attention after a tough loss.

While you have been so dialed in focusing on your craft, you may have lost sight of those around you, understandably so. I hope and pray that you notice the little Tiny and Mini that idolizes you. I hope you notice the admiration in their eyes staring up at you. I hope you notice after you complete that last pass. There is a Tiny and a Mini analyzing your every move and only one day hoping to duplicate your skill level. I hope you watch when they perfect that forward roll or cartwheel and they are so overcome with joy they stumble over themselves in excitement giving their coaches huge hugs. I only wish that you could see that after those littles come home from practice and competitions they get right back to work creating new routines using your name and the team you represent. When they practice along side you and go for their water break they are longing for you to say hi or give them a high five because to them, you are their biggest hero. I hope you respect that. Carosblog

We all know you did not ask for this, but suspect somewhere along the line of your success there was someone you looked up to. Someone you admired and wanted to be like. Hopefully, they took you under their wing and gave you an encouraging smile or shout of encouragement. Your legacy means something whether you like it or not. An encouraging smile or taking a moment to watch that little team that is working so hard to be like you can move mountains.

At the end of the day, this is a very small world. You understand the bond and the legacy that Allstar Cheerleading represents better than anyone. You know that when the chips are down and you enter the real world outside of cheer, there is no one else you would rather surround yourself with than people who have went through the same challenges and triumphs as you. That could be the very person who you may or may not have been tearing down on #CheerTwitter.

You may not know it now, but the life lessons and skills you are learning that I have laid out in If you are in business…Never hire an Allstar Cheerleader mean nothing if you tarnish or don’t respect the legacy you leave. It means something…it means a lot. If you are not going to do it for the Tiny or Mini cheerleader I mentioned earlier, I understand. Maybe you won’t even consider it for your parents who have sacrificed an immense amount to give you these life skills, opportunities and experiences in life that you may not even recognize at this stage in your life. I certainly hope and pray that you do it for the person you are staring at in the mirror, because you deserve it, and the people you surround yourself with deserve it as well.

There is a circle of life that is Allstar Cheerleading. The circle will then extend into college or any other life path you choose in life. You will be amazing as you always have been. The learning curve may be longer, but you need to realize you built your craft over the course of many years. Life is the same way. The legacy you leave means everything to the future. Respect the honor of what you do by being the better person now.  Continue to be amazing in everything you do, because that is what you know and that is what you were programmed to do.