Quite Possibly The Biggest Miracle in Summit History…. The 2016 Fire Rays

As many know, a cheer season is filled with ups and downs. As a team is formed in May, it will typically take 6 to 7 months for a team to find their identity. Sometimes it takes longer.

While I have written many stories about the 2015 miracle mini team that made it to summit and written the book Welcome to Mintland. By luck, the following year, I was able to witness one of the most amazing stories in summit history. Let me explain.

A team that makes it to summit is quite literally made up of an entire childhood of preparation. Summit is a culmination of effort lead by a curageous team of coaches that inspire a team of atlhetes to vitually “run through a brick wall” to perfect the one adorning routine that will define a level in that year for all of eternity. It’s a big deal and the winning team will be known forever as the best team in the world in that division forever.

The feeling when you hit at Summit, is the best feeling you will ever have in your entire life—a single, identifiable moment from which the trajectories of your entire cheer career can be defined. Simply put, it is the culmination of the sacrifice, blood, sweat ,tears and dreams of a team.

Now days, it seems too many teams are invited to the Cheeleading Summit. (it’s actually single digit percentages of all teams across the country) the reality is, many Allstar teams will never get the opportunity to make it to day 2 at Summit. It is even more difficult moving up your placement on Day 2, but it can be done.

Within each division at Summit there are numerous teams who are invited to the coveted final competition that seeks out the best of the best from across the country. If you ask any club cheer Owner, Director or Coach they will tell you the most challenging and competitve division is J3.

There are many reasons for this, one prominantly is the number of teams to qualify and compete in the J3 division at summit. The other is that during this time in 2016 large and small gyms alike would have to assemble J3 teams as some gyms did not have the numbers with the talent or skills to compete level 4 or 5. Some talented athletes who could throw level 4/5 skills and stunts would many times have to compete down a few levels to field a team. This is a very real issue with most gyms and leads to an enormous amount of J3 teams across the nation.

The Stingray Allstars was no excpetion that year. With Stingrays being a large gym, they can typically field two Level 3 teams. A small J3 team (Fire Rays) and a large J3 (Scarlet). The difference is at a large gym, not many athletes if any, compete down. Most if not all, are level appropriate. This is the blessing and the curse of being in a larger gym. Typically, you are not able to “stack” your team with higher level athletes. Many are pulled up to level 4 and some compete down depending on positions in the gym (flyers and base needs per team).

There are unique challenges with coaching J3 teams. With most agreeing it is the most competitive division, it is also the most difficult to coach. Junior teams are filled with many athletes that cheer in middle and high school that compete with All Star practice time, that will typically interfere with complete stunt group practices. There are also commitment challenges as many athletes are getting used to or struggle with the work load in high school. There are atheltes that often times do not understand the commitment level they signed up for and can end up moving on or giving up. Needless to say it can be very late in the season before a team gets a strong continuity in reps with the full routine.

The Fire Rays were no exception in 2016. The beginning of the season was filled with many challenges. The team and coaches worked very hard to fill gaps, adhere to their high standards and enforce accountability. The team worked extremely hard.

Sometimes in a season a team will dominate from start to finish and you know they are going to go far. The 2016 Fire Rays were an extremely talented team, but they were not that dominant team durning Nationals season. They did earn an early at-large bid to Summit at Chattanooga but the rest of the season was filled with a few disappointing moments with losses due to legalities or other random events.

Fast forward three months later. Twenty eight teams head to summit to compete in the Small J3 division. The first day saw the wildcard teams compete for the one coveted pass to make it to the main round with the at- large and paid bid teams. After the first round of competition, there were a total 11 teams that made it to the finals on day 2. The Fire Rays were one of those teams. Their routine was far from perfect but they made it, they were in 10th place going into day 2. Making it to day 2 at summit is an enourmus accomplishment for a team, especially a J3 team.

Heading into Day 2, I was fortunate enough to be sitting with my daughters team at the time, the Red Rays, they also made it to Day 2. A few hours before the Red Rays went on stage we were assigned to watch a sister Rays team, it was the Fire Rays.

Ironically, the Red Rays were also in 10th place going into day 2. As a parent, I knew what being in 10th place on day 2 meant. There would be no Summit championship for the Red Rays on this day, but we would fight to the finish and see how far we could climb the standings by bettering our performance on day 2. Scoring at Summit is different that typical competitions. At Summit there is no 50/50, 25/75 or best day scoring. All the scores are wiped clean for day 2 and you start from scratch. Every day is a new day, but it is extremly tough to move up in the standings as many teams hit zero and the competition and score cards are normally maxed out.

I began to ask the Fire Rays mom when the team was scheduled to go on. We knew Fire was in 10th place and the teams compete in reverse order of standings. There were 11 teams so they would perform second. She said, “They are in warm ups now actually. Can you excuse me just a second I am getting a phone call.” She listened for a few seconds turned and ran she seemed very panicked.

After the call, she walked back toward me stunned, seemed a bit off and did not have the typical anxiety level that a parent normally has before their team performs and honestly she seemed shocked. I asked, “What time do you guys perform?” She looked at me with a deeply concerned look and said, “Well, we were in warm ups and one of our athletes may have broken or serverely twisted her ankle.” She is not going to be able to go. I looked at her and responded, “Oh my gosh, I am so so sorry.” It looked like she needed a moment, so I wished her well and continued to track down my daughters team. In my mind, I knew what a combination of being in 10th place and a last minute injury would typically mean for the Fire Rays.

For accuracy sake and research for this article, I asked Latonia Priester the team mom and flyer Amy Stimson for the Fire Rays at the time, how exactly everything went down after that phone call.

From Amy Stimpson: “We were warming up tumbling and I looked over and Haley was on the floor in severe pain. The trainers from the competition ran over to help her and everyone was in shock and some began to cry. Within seconds Coach Bird was one the phone with Coach Tiffany.

From Latonia: “Coach Bird called Tiffany immediately and she a asked if she could borrow a strong base to fill in for Haley. Tiffany immediately responded Kaitlyn will be perfect.” They re-worked the routine and within 30-40 minutes they were lined up to take the stage, it all happened so fast.”

I asked Amy how she felt as the team was about to take the stage for their final performance for the year. She stated, “If I am being completely honest, were were pretty down and I don’t think we all felt we had a shot, but we had nothing to lose at that point. We all just wanted to go out there and do the best we could and see if we could do better than 10th place.”

Hopefully, you will never have to experience an injury in a warm up room, but it will occasionally happen. The replacement athlete will typically will not have any familiarity with the routine at all. The coaches will have to spring into action, find an athlete, choreograph that athlete into the routine as best as they can, all within 30 minutes. As luck would have it, the Scarlet Rays our Large Junior 3 was also at summit and they also made it to day 2.

As the day progresssed, the Red Rays finished the day in 8th place we started the drive back to Marietta. In normal fashion, my family would scan the twitter feeds to keep everyone up to speed on the remaining Stingray teams as the award ceremonies commenced. We started creating a checklist of Stingrays teams and where they finished on the day. We saw a congratulations to the Fire Rays on there finish at summit. I asked my wife, “Where did they end up?” the answer stopped me dead in my tracks.

The exact moment when exactly like this :

The parents in the viewing area were in complete shock. The team and the coaches were in complete shock and disbelief. From one of the Fire Parents: “Honestly, once they announced the top 5 teams, if I were to be honest, I thought they forgot to add us to the awards! I knew we hit, but I had no idea what was about to happen. It was literally a miracle

From Jill Stimpson, “Going in in tenth and having the injury one hour before was heart wrenching. Then their performance was epic and the wait for awards was torture. Lol. All the emotions. We had zero expectation all we hoped for was not LAST”

The 2016 Fire Rays pulled off the impossible, going from 10th place on Day 1 to capturing the most coveted honor in Allstar Cheerleading and winning Summit on Day 2 after a servere injury just hours before.

While facing the unthinkable moments before they were supposed to hit the mat. They never gave up on the themselves, the routine or the coaches and will go down in history as pulling off quite possibly, the biggest miracle in Summit history.

The Challenge of Explaining Allstar Cheerleading

One of the biggest challenges as a parent or athlete is explaining the sport of Allstar Cheer.

After trying for many years to articulate what these kids do on a daily basis. I figured it would be better to capture the experience.

I was fortunate enough to follow the amazing Stingray Allstars Black during their journey at the Cheersport Nationals in Atlanta back in February. This is a raw uncut version of their quest to earn a summit bid.

If you have ever struggled to explain or properly articulate what parents and athletes experience at Cheersport, this will be a great video to share. If you have never been. Take a look at this post about surviving Cheersport

Out of respect of the program and team, I waited until after Summit to release as the full routine was in the documentary.

I hope you enjoy “Chasing Destiny”

Is it time to quit Allstar Cheerleading?

It’s that time of year again. It’s a few weeks before Worlds and Summit. You either have a bid or you don’t. Those that don’t are struggling with that fact. Those that do are pushing themselves to the limit after an exhausting  eight-month season. The school work is piling up, spring break is imminent and people are out having fun.

If you have a bid you are doing multiple full outs, you may even be in the middle of school tryouts on top of practicing for Worlds and Summit. Tryout packets are already being turned in for next season. A few others are getting a head start on tryouts. They are perfecting their new skills and passes for next season and you are stuck perfecting the same routine you have performed for the past 7 months. You are still not hitting every time. The coach is making final tweaks, squeezing out every once of points to maximize the score sheet. You are reaching a breaking point. You are using every ounce of energy and focused on not letting your team down….. and those oh so precious Worlds and Summit rings. It’s getting really really hard.

In the back of your mind, you are asking yourself the questions you don’t yet know the answers to. Your parents are pushing you to make a commitment or at least declare for next year. You are running through all the scenarios and asking all the questions you seem to struggle with every single year.

  1. Is the sacrifice worth it?
  2. Do I risk losing everything I worked for if I take a year off?
  3. Would I be able to listen to all of my friends doing incredible things next year in Cheer?
  4. Will I miss the adrenaline rush?
  5. Will I miss my teammates, the struggles, the successes and the bonds?
  6. I am so close to achieving my next skill should I give up now?
  7. What would it be like just to be a normal kid with free time?
  8. My family is here at the gym, would I miss them?
  9. I am tired of getting coached and “yelled at” but I know it is for our own good.
  10. I mean…. I can still tumble right?
  11. Will my parents and coaches be disappointed?

The questions keep coming in your head and then we drop a stunt in practice. The conditioning starts again and it hurts. More full outs come, the questions in my head are becoming easier to answer…. or are they?

Allstar cheer is big on showing all the “look at me” moments. For every award ceremony showing the winning announcement there are 8-15 other teams that do not get the glory. No one shows the video of the agony and crying going on in practice. The stunt and choreography camps, the hours upon hours of sacrifice during tumble and stunting classes. Do you want to do all of that again for one more year?

Your parents are torn. They struggle with the pain of you choosing not to do this again next year, but hoping and praying that you do. They know that you love to do this but would love the extra 6-8 hours a week back (not counting drive time or multiple siblings in a program.) They understand you have no idea the value of the life lessons you are learning but continue to throw thousands of dollars at your dream. The choice is yours (or at least it should be)There are a few weeks left, what are you going to do?

It’s time for Worlds and Summit. You are at ESPN WWOS and the energy is electric. You have one more shot with this squad you have called family for the past 8 months. It is time for one last quest together as a team to capture the dream you have worked for all year.

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Is it time to quit Allstar Cheerleading? There is going to be a time where you have to answer the question, “Am I going to do this again next year?” We hope you will but you will make the right decision for yourself when that time comes. The one thing you will absolutely know many years from now is that the routine you worked so hard on for the past 8 months only lasts 2:30 but the memory of that routine, the journey and the team that you called family will last a lifetime…….The choice is yours what will it be?

The person that does not belong on the Cheer Team…..

You know…. there is always one. In the beginning of a cheer season. There is always excitement, the unknown, pieces of a puzzle that have yet to fit. Then it begins. The first practice. Whispers start, the sizing up begins. Who does not belong? Who is the kid that should be on a higher level team? Who is the kid who had no business being on the team in the first place. The athlete that has the mental block or ” lost his/her tumbling”?  Who is the athlete that just is not mature enough to handle the pressure? Do you hear it? Sure you do….

Months go by, and things start to take shape.  The team is forming, bonds and stunt groups are starting to click. Personalities are complimenting each other. The athlete that “a few” said was not mature enough, is looking up to the athlete that was left behind from the successful team from the previous year. The athlete that is grooming their tumbling is learning from the athlete that should have been put on that “higher level team”. They are beginning to grow and learn from each other, but you still hear the whispers”. Do you hear it? There is still one, maybe two or at worst more than two. Why are they still here? How are you going to be successful with them in the mix?

Competition season starts and the athletes that did not have the proper tumbling are mentally beating themselves up everyday by trying to keep up with the team. They are putting in extra hours pushing through the mental struggle they have no control over. They do not understand why they can’t yet push through this struggle. The parents of said athletes stay silent in the corner. Praying they can keep up, fighting through the daily struggle of trying to make sure their athlete feels worthy of being on that team. The athletes that have their tumbling down cold are encouraging the athletes every chance they get. Screaming encouragement and comforting them when there is a setback. The coaches are working on drills every practice to instill confidence and developing skills. the team is growing! Yet, it is still there, do you hear it? Maybe you can see it. Maybe the notion still whispers in your ear. I still can’t believe it, but they are still here, on the team.

We are heading into the final stretch. The practices intensify. The superlatives of every athlete are maxed to form the identity of this team. Maybe at this stage you are undefeated, maybe you have not won a competition all season. The results at this stage seem irrelevant. Especially, to the one that does not belong on the team. Obviously, they simply do not get it. Win or lose, you are still going to hear it. Do you hear it?

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The time has come, it’s the final time on the mat together. The team has grown together and formed an unspeakable bond. The backspot that did not have her tumbling all season, saved that elite stunt and fought her heart out to keep that flyer in the air all season, never dropped once. The superstar tumbler that you learned should have been on a higher level team, sometimes struggled to keep her group in the air. She mentored the younger and less experienced athletes and helped them realize and capitalize on the moment. She showed them composure and confidence. She built them up with just her presence alone. The flyer that came out of no where from another gym, fit into the team like a glove and complimented everyone in her group. She is now one of us.   The team has come together like an amazing jazz ensemble.

It’s all over now and maybe the journey has ended at the Summit or Worlds. Maybe it ended, without a win at all. What ever the outcome there is no doubt it will end with tears of joy. The battles, struggles and sacrifice will always play and important part in your life whether you believe it or not. The teammates you shared this journey with are a part of your make up, forever.

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Upon reflection, there was that one element that held the team back from absolute greatness. Even at the end of the season, this person still did not get it. It was the one piece of the puzzle that never seemed to fit in. The continuous negative energy that weighed over the team the entire season. The continuous chirping and jockeying for position. The person that could not see the amazing miracle of growth and journey that will bond this team forever not realizing what was happening right in front of them.

You know the person I am talking about. When you think of a successful season, I hope you think of an experience that is magical, all the way up and down the spectrum. The athletes, coaches and parents. There is one that did not belong for reasons they never figured out.

So who is it do you ask? Who is the person that does not belong on the Allstar Cheerleading team? If you are a parent reading this right now.  I hope and pray that it is not YOU…..your team needs every ounce of your support. To be a complete magical season. Coaches, Athletes and Parents all have to come together as one. Don’t be the person that casts a shadow on a magical season, as parents it is up to you to lift up and lift all.

Welcome to Mintland Podcast- The Final Chapter

With this being the final chapter in the Welcome to Mintland podcast, I wanted to do something a little special. I was lucky enough to be joined by Wendy McConnell and Scott East of the 2015 World Champion Peach Rays.

Please listen in, as the coaches share their memories of the Peach Rays / Peppermint Rays special season and bond the two teams shared. It was certainly a special moment that everyone will remember for years to come.

I also share another exciting announcement within the podcast. You may have noticed it already. If you look hard enough you may be able to find the little secret I share about the book.

What started out as a hobby to share the story with younger listeners, has turned into such an amazing experience reliving and expanding on this fun story. I certainly appreciate all of the listeners that have invested their time to listen in and I hope you enjoy the story and carry on the spirit of this team through all your life journeys.

Enjoy the final Chapter The Road to Summit below.

http://welcome-to-mintland.madewithopinion.com/road-to-summit-chapter-12/#

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.

When an Allstar Cheer Coach takes you higher than you ever dreamed of.

I have heard it many times. “If you demand excellence out of your team, you just might get it. If you don’t you will never understand a teams true potential.”

This is an expectation we understand in the allstar cheerleading community.  We watch worlds teams chase perfection to achieve their destiny every year. High expectations, work ethic, emotional ups and downs. “The process” as it is referred, is an excepted term that explains the journey that is a complete season in allstar cheer.

What if it’s not a worlds team? Let’s take this perspective and apply it to a mini team. Is that fair? If done properly, it absolutely is!

It takes an amazing coach with sound fundamentals in development and leadership to create an unbreakable culture within. If a coach repeats the mantra. ” Our goal is to be the best mini team in the world” it is a very special moment when that team dares to believe what the coach tells them every week in every practice. Have we seen teams gel together and become amazing? Absolutely, it happens to hundreds of mini teams every year. As parents I understand it can be challenging to accept the notion that young children can be coached to such levels. There is a fine line between coaching genius and taking it too far with any age group. If the proper fundamentals of having fun, doing your best at all times and not placing emphasis on winning, the rest will fall into place and become history.

Sometimes, the culture of that team overflows and rubs off on the entire gym. I delve into the topic on the new podcast Welcome to Mintland Chapter 11 

This chapter describes the amazing goal that a coach puts before a mini team and how they chose to respond as a group. It is an amazing story about the ” little mini team that could” and the 2015 World Champion Stingray Allstars Peach The world champions adopt our beloved mini team and become mentors and spirit animals to a team trying to defy the odds. Here is an excerpt from the book that describes a moment at UCA.

“All of the Mints immediately stood up and began screaming their little lungs out, but this time it was different. The roar of the milkhouse crowd drowned out the cheers from the little mini team that had consistently had their back all year. Peppermints spirit and love transcended the noise of the crowd, it was too strong to be drowned out and they emanated a spirit that was very clearly felt all the way down on the mats at UCA.”  – Welcome to Mintland

Don’t be afraid to embrace a coach that challenges you and takes you to new heights. It will not be easy. It will be emotionally draining and exhausting. I promise you one thing, if your team and coaches fully commit, no matter what age, no matter what skill level you will achieve a lifetime of achievements, lessons and memories that you will be able to apply to life for many years to come. You will NEVER EVER forget the heights that coach will take you. Embrace it.