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”

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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.

One Backspot and One Base- Ready to Fly!

It was an exciting night at the Stingray Allstars in Marietta Wednesday evening. The gym hosted a special ceremony for two of their student athletes from the 2018 Stingray Allstars Orange. Gillian Scott and Raegan Dover signed their Division 1 NCATA National Letters of Commitment surrounded by their parents, teammates and coaches.

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I had an opportunity to visit with both the amazing student athletes to learn a little about their exciting news, future plans and how they plan to apply the skills they have learned as athletes into their college careers as student athletes.

Gillian Scott

Gillian has cheered at the Stingray Allstars for 7 years. She will be attending Quinnipiac University after this season. Gillian will be 1 of 60 accepted to the highly competitive 6 year Health Science and Doctorate of Physical Therapy program for Fall 2018 AND she gave her verbal commitment to Quinnipiac’s Acrobatics & Tumbling Team!

A bit about Gillian

Senior year in High School currently dual enrolled at Kennesaw State University
Received from Kennesaw State University – Sigma Alpha Pi Honor Society Invitation
National Society of Leadership and Success, All Majors – Red and Black Cords

Stingrays Teams

  • Green Rays 2 years
  • Slate Rays 1 yr
  • Orange Rays 4 yrs

Who was your role model in cheer growing up?

“Definitely Angel Rice and Kiara Nowlin they both pushed me and inspired me to be where I am today.”

Who is your role model in life?

“Both my parents are incredible role models, but I would have to say my brother Brandon. He has inspired me in life like no other. He provided me a perspective that no matter what obstacle is in my way, I can persevere and make it through anything. His spirit continues to carry me through.”

Career Goals

“I would like to specialize in Sports Medicine and really take a holistic approach to physical therapy. I want to be very approachable and help as many people as I can in the future with unique and customized methods to fit the individual. “23468372_10212735279150083_2114195959_o

Raegan Dover

This is Raegans first year at the Stingray Allstars. Prior to joining Orange she cheered at Georgia Allstars and Twisters. After this season Raegan will be attending Baylor University and will enroll in the Physical Therapy program at the University. She will also be competing on the Acrobatics and Tumbling team at Baylor.

A bit about Raegan

Prior to cheering she was a gymnastics athlete and converted over. She is currently attending High School at South Forsyth.

Stingrays Teams

First year on Stingrays Orange

Who was your role model in Cheer?

“I really looked up to Shayla Moore. She really helped me make the transition from gymnastics to cheer. She is such an amazing athlete.”

Who is your Role Model in life?

“My parents have been great. I especially look up to my Dad. He has always been a great role model for me.”

Career Goals

“I am really looking forward to a career in physical therapy. I am hoping to apply the work ethic and persistence I have learned as an athlete and apply it in school and in my career.”

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We wish these amazing athletes all the success on the mats this season and in future. Continue to follow your dreams and continue to CRUSH!

 

Dear Mean Allstar Cheerleading Coach,

I started with you when I was a tiny/mini cheerleader. I was mesmerized by watching the big kids. I wanted to be like them and win a medal.

When we started practicing I was a little taken aback. I did not know it at the time, but our team was a mess. We forged on over the course of many months. Through dedication, tons of coaching, fighting through immeasurable amounts of frustration we began to come together. You believed in me and told me I could get that forward roll. Once I perfected that, you said I could get my cartwheel, I did. Then I moved on to my back walk over. I did it, but it was never perfect, You always coached me every inch of the way. Celebrating little victories, but making sure my arms were straight and that I was always on count. Why are you so mean?

It’s almost comp season we are all doing ok, but you seem to be insisting that we become better. Why are you so loud? Why do you insist on perfection? We are only kids. My parents keep telling me you are coaching, but I think otherwise. Why are you so mean?

Competition season is almost over we have quite a few medals and a few jackets. I can only focus on the here and now but I notice our team is becoming pretty good. You don’t tell us that very often in my opinion, and you are still pushing us to be better. Why are you so mean?

It’s the last performance of the season. We want to make you proud. I look down and notice you are crying. I am not sure why you are crying, but I have taken your guidance all year. We do our best again. We leave the mats and I am worried you will be loud again, but your not. You tell us how proud you are of us and our growth over the entire season. We end up winning the competition again. You insist we keep working and striving to be better. Why are you so mean?

Fast Forward…  

I have now moved on to youth and junior teams. While you are no longer my coach anymore, I still see you all the time and you always make time for me and give me a hug. I am working on harder skills now, but the one thing that has never changed is your continuous voice in my ear making sure my form is perfect and that I am on count. I share this drive for perfection and continuous high expectations with my teammates. They buy into my passion for excellence and many ask where I got it from. I am not quite sure, but I think it came from that mean coach I used to have.

We are prepping for Summit. You are still not my coach but still watch me and are invested in me. You catch me slacking off in practice from across the gym. I am not giving it my all. You take time out of your busy day to call me out for it. Literally, across the gym in front of everybody. Why are you so mean?

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Fast Forward…

Life is becoming a little more challenging now. I have been on every level team on my journey from Level 1 to Level 5. I have worked hard and fought through peaks and valleys to make my dream team. I am juggling a very rough school schedule, practice, tumble classes, I come in early and stay late with my stunt group.

I have to maintain exceptional grades to earn the right to follow my passion to cheer. In the middle of all of this, I bump into you rushing to practice. You notice I seem a little overwhelmed. You take a moment to ask if I am ok? You already know the answer. You let me vent and share my frustrations and then you look me in the eye and tell me that you know I can push through this challenging time. Right on cue, as expected, you don’t throw me a pity party and you tell me to suck it up and push through and give it your best. Why are you still so mean?

 

Fast Forward…

It’s finally over. The final award ceremony has concluded. It’s time to make some exciting but challenging life decisions. It is now time to decide how I am going to spend the next four years of my life. When I make my decision and my announcement. I notice you are there right by my side. You are crying again, and I am not sure why. I still remember you yelling at me to make sure my arms were straight and my toes were pointed. You never gave up on me and insisted I always do my best.

I share that I ended up in the top 10 percent of my graduating class. My parents are trying to figure out how to get rid of all the medals jackets and accolades I have earned under your tutelage. You look at me with tears in your eyes and make me promise I will continue to work my heart out.

I am little older and wiser now. I have the opportunity to look back upon my amazing journey. I smile at the thought of your agonizing task of coaching 18 tiny and mini cheerleaders. I honestly can’t believe you put that much passion into us. I remember you calling me out when I was not doing my best. I remember the time you took in the hallway to make sure I was ok and you cared enough to share that you believed in me and knew I could push through.

After all these years, I think I get it now. I realize your love for me and finally know what you MEAN.

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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.

The Most Painful Gift is a Summit Loss…

There is nothing more painful than hitting your routine at Summit and not advancing or making it to day two, hitting and losing. It will happen to almost every team that sets foot in the ESPN WWOS. Specifically, about 95% of the teams that are fortunate enough to earn a bid will not get the ring.

As I reflect on the 2017 season, it is a bittersweet moment. It happened again, we competed, hit zero both days and lost…. this will be the third time. It will probably happen over and over again if we are lucky enough to make it back. I use the term “WE” on purpose. As you know, your entire village is part of a trip to Summit. The coaches, the athletes, the parents. The cycle of emotions after you come back from Summit and lose goes something like this. exhaustion, anger, guilt, reflection on what went wrong. After you make it through all of those emotions the final and most important stage

You begin to smile, you begin to understand the magnitude of what you just went through with your entire squad. After you make it through all of those emotions the final and most important stage hit you like a ton of bricks. The inevitable question. Was it all worth it?

Typically, if you are like me, it’s the third day. I start looking at all the amazing photos of the weekend. The smiles, the anticipation, the preparation, the tension the amazing time with friends. The pain, the tears …I review it all.

Then there is that moment when you find a social media post from a few years back that puts everything into perspective. You were new to cheer, maybe a little less jaded, some may say a little nieve. I would say it summed up the biggest gift you can get from a Summit loss. It goes a little something like this……

Pardon me capturing this moment…..

The most treasured gifts one can receive in life are lifetime memories. Sometimes these are good memories, sometimes bad. As we got home from Orlando last night. As we always do, Kaitlyn and I snuggled and we talked about her 2nd place finish at The Summit.

While she was disappointed in not winning. I explained to her that as she goes through life this experience is a gift that she will be able to hold in her heart forever. As a 7-year-old she did not exactly understand what I meant.

I proceeded to tell her that what their team accomplished will never be taken away. She would be able to take this experience with her for the rest of her life and share the incredible journey with others. “It is a gift”.

As we walked through the entire journey. I also shared that Coach Ashley believing in them and giving them this incredible opportunity is something she should never forget. I also told her that the team overcame so many things to get as far as they did. She seemed perplexed. “What did we overcome? We were only doing our routine as we always do.” I finally told her that many people did not think they would do as well as they did. I finally was able to put into perspective exactly what they accomplished.

1.People stated that Peppermint was “too small” to compete in the Youth division. People said there was no way this team would be able to compete one time and get a bid, it was too much of a long shot. They should stay the course and go for the Triple Crown points race.

2. Some people said ” They would never give a Mini team a ” Youth Level at-large bid to the Summit.” They were right, your team did NOT get an at-large bid. They were awarded a “Full Paid bid instead”

3. People were nervous when Peppermint changed the routine they had all season. I was a risky change going into Summit. It was a huge challenge and at times did not look so good in practice. They said maybe it was a mistake to change it. You hit it flawlessly both days in competition.

4. People said there would be no way they would let a Mini team move on to day 2 at the Summit in the Youth Division. You made it to Day 2 Final and Finished in Second Place in the Nation in the Youth Division.

Kaitlyn then asked ” Why did our coaches not tell us all this stuff?” I responded well Kaitlyn that is the the Gift that I was referring to. Coach Ashley, Kelsey and Rupert believed in you so much that they knew you could do it all along without any doubt! That is the true gift! Coach Ashley told you all year you were the best Mini Team in the world all year and she was right….hold that in your heart forever. #miraclemints

This post was the inspiration for the book Welcome to Mintland. It is featured on the Welcome to Mintland Facebook page HERE.

 

 

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.