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.
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.
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 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
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.”
“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. “
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.
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.”
“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.”
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!
This article appears in the January 2017 edition of Cheer.Dance.Lyfe magazine. To get a copy of the magazine click HERE.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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
As we all know, Louisiana has been ravaged by floods as the area was hit with unprecedented rains that exceeded over 25 inches in 48 hours. I’ve seen limited news coverage on this event but was learning the extent of the flooding via social media. As I was scrolling through twitter. I stumbled upon something that hit me directly. One of the local Allstar Cheerleading teams Louisiana Cheerforce located in Baton Rouge posted a gofundme page for all the athletes and parents affected by the flooding. My heart sank as an emotional plea the cheer gym reached out to our cheer community. As I read the gofundme page I wanted to do something to help.
The thought of the families struggling to cope with the devastation of piecing their lives together is unimaginable. We would like to think that the last thing on everyones mind in a tragedy like this would be Allstar cheerleading. To children, unfortunately, that is not the case. Many in the Allstar cheerleading community understand that being with your teammates and friends in your home away from home with your coaches is normalcy.
That being said, as I mentioned earlier I wanted to help. What I would like to do is donate ALL REVENUES made from book sales of Welcome to Mintland in the next 30 days to this cause. I wrote this book to make sure the story of childhood dreams and perseverance when faced with adversity, were shared with all. I know that this will not make even the slightest dent in the help needed in Louisiana, but if we can help give a little bit of hope by sharing the amazing story of the 2015 Stingray Allstars Peppermint while raising a few dollars to help flood victims get back to normal. I am all for it! I know the team that was featured in this book would love to know that their story could potentially help others. My hope is to raise funds while inspiring a few people or cheer teams by reading about a Mini Allstar Cheerleading team that achieved their dreams by overcoming challenges in the road. It only seems fitting.
If you are reading this and have a friend who Cheers or know someone who would love to read a fun story about Allstar Cheerleading I would be honored if you share this info with them.
Here is a brief trailer for the book.
If you would like to learn more about the book, or purchase a book for the cause you may do so here : Welcome to Mintland
Remember all proceeds over the next 30 days from book sales will go straight to Louisiana Cheerforce GofundMe page. Hopefully, this will be a Win/Win for all involved.
If you feel compelled to donate directly to the gofundme page you can do so HERE
Thank you for taking the time to read this and we are praying for all victims of Louisiana flooding.
The number one request I’ve had over the past couple of months is how is the team doing, or where are they now? I have done my best to keep up with the team and sharing stories and updates but unfortunately, the information has been all over the place.
Between the Welcome to Mintland FB page HERE, the Blog (You are currently reading) my YOUTUBE channel and my twitter handle, information was kind of tough to find. I wanted to let everyone know I have finally got around to creating a site where you can access all the information you would like about the team.
I have included some special parts of the season I was not able to share in the book. Including the video I created for the team before they went to Summit . I also included a video of Peppermints final performance together as a team at the Summit finals along with the book trailer explaining Welcome to Mintland. I have also included a ton of pictures that were cut from the book.
Ok i’ll stop rambling you can find the new site HERE. I hope you enjoy!
It is so great to have many of the Mintland crew back together on teams at Stingrays. I know a few of the original Mint crew are scattered amongst a few different teams and it is amazing to watch them blossom and grow. Since most of what happened in Welcome to Mintland happened at such a young age for most of them, it got me thinking. Do they remember that time? Will they remember the connections? Will they understand the scope of what they accomplished? Will they remember including everyone in the fun and the little things that made that team so unique? That is what made our moment in time so special. We will never get that moment in time back again.
It has been so fun to see the leadership and relationships from our time blossom and show up on all of our current teams. This week has been especially fun, as I am noticing the kids maturing and their personalities are really beginning to shine. I am noticing our Mints encouraging others when they are struggling. I am watching teammates pick each other up emotionally when things are not going their way. I see teammates ecstatic when one of their teammates learns a new skill. Basically, what I am saying is I am seeing the pieces that made the original Welcome to Mintland team so special happening again. What makes the culture so fun is that they are sharing and including others in it. That is what it is all about.
I personally had a moment this week that touched me. It was simple, no one noticed it except my wife sitting next to me (who was hitting me because she though I was instigating it) but it gave me hope that they will remember their moment in time.
Let me explain. In between stunt drills at practice, a few of our goof ball Minnie Mints currently on another team aka: “usual suspects” saw me sitting up in the fishbowl at Stingrays like I always do. (I will not release the current team or the names to protect the innocent as they should have been paying attention to their coaches:) .
They were attempting to get my attention and began to do some silly things. To most, it was probably just normal funny things kids do with downtime. To me, it was a reminder of the connection we had. It was some of the silly things we used to do backstage waiting to go to warm ups or while waiting for awards. I will not release exactly what was done, as break dancing and knocking out killer dance moves during practice is not Stingray policy :). It was a little gesture, but it meant the world to me. They remembered the fun and more importantly, the place in time.
The Crazy Personaities of the Welcome to Mintland Crew Dec 2014
Growing Up and Making New Friends as Red Rays at Summit 2016
This is a tough time of year in allstar cheer. Teams are trying to learn the routine and downtime can be challenging while coaches figure out what is best. It was neat to see them make the most of it, and include a few other new team members in the moment. I was very flattered that they thought to include me.
The jackets and medals in competition are nice but the connections and remembering the special moment in time during the grind of summer is what each allstar cheerleading season is all about. I am going to predict some very amazing things from our Mintland crew this year. They will continue the Mintland culture and tradition and be amazing because they are.
Many of the youth teams have figured out their goal for this year. It is a big one, it spread like wild fire once they figured out this “special thing” has never been done before. Will any of the youth teams achieve their goal? We will just have to wait and find out…..
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.
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!
It’s that time of year again. You have been practicing since May. The squad is solid, the routine is locked and perfected. You know every move you teammate is going to make. It is time to make the trip to Atlanta, Ga for Cheersport Nationals.
The logistics begin to make this a successful trip for athletes and parents alike. The uniforms are packed the make-up and hairspray are strategically positioned for easy access. The hotel is booked and travel plans engaged. You have the inflatable furniture packed and the Stiletto heels ready to go! *LOUD RECORD SCREECHING SOUND* Wait What??????
Yes, you read that right. People do what they have to do to survive the Cheersport Nationals. It is an awesome competition and an incredible experience. It needs to be managed carefully or it can quickly spiral into a massive challenge on many levels. Here are some tips to make sure you maximize your experience.
Leave the Jimmy Choo’s at home!– This is no joke. You will walk miles upon miles going from warm up room, to competition area, to awards. Bring the FitBit because you will rack up the steps more than you would even believe. The last three years we have walked over six miles per day. Bring comfortable shoes!
If you are going to bring the inflatable furniture do it in style!Listen, i’m not here to judge. You are going to see inflatable furniture up in this bad boy. Folks have to do what they have to do. Parents who have more than three athletes competing have my personal blessing to bring an inflatable sectional couch to the competition if needed. There is a ton of standing and a lot of downtime. Stay comfortable people you will need your rest! Just make sure you coordinate and do it in style!
Remember this competition is not about you- For the younger children ( heck even parents), this place is extremely intimidating. There will be close to 70,000 people at Cheersport this year. The Georgia World Congress Center has its own ZIP CODE for a reason. Remember your team will be extremely amped up and excited. There is a lot of pressure to execute and the electricity is infectious. If you can simply put yourself in the shoes of your athlete you will be fine. Keep the drama to a minimum and go with the flow. Don’t sweat the small stuff. (There will be a ton of small stuff!) Keep your focus on helping your athlete through the day. Pace yourself, and take in the experience it awesome.
Take a break from the Competition festivities! If pulsating cheer music for 8-9 hours is your thing fantastic! Sit there and take it all in. For most, it will be healthy to take in something outside of the competition. Luckily there is tons to do within short walking distance of the competition. Take a look at the spectator packet for a ton of great deals and activities for the weekend. Most of what you need to know can be found right HERE. My personal favorite is the circus, but I am a kid at heart.
Come out to Stingrays and make new friends– Listen, it’s a long weekend and teams from all over the world will be here. It would be a shame not to share this wonderful experience with others. Share some kindness and some sportsmanship we all in this together for this long weekend. For most, this is an annual experience it’s good to share with others. If you come in early, make sure to come out and visit The Stingray Allstars in Marietta, Ga Its a short drive from downtown Atlanta. There are teams that practice and visit from all over the world. Swing by and say hi.
Watch the best of the best- The fight to watch the Senior teams is intense. It gets ugly trying to get a position to watch the best teams in the world compete. Just be aware and careful especially if you have little ones. If you let your guard down before a popular team comes up, the crowd get feisty very fast jockeying for position. If your team is lucky enough to hit both days you MIGHT win. If that happens, you will have a lifelong memory for both your athlete and yourself. Even if you don’t, you will never forget the experience and you can build off it in the future.
7. Watch a Cheersport Documentary- If you have never been, take a look at this documentary of the 2018 National Champion Black Rays. It’s an up close and personal example of the entire weekend through the eyes of the team and their quest to win a National Championship and earn a bid to Summit.
You have been working all year. Now is the payoff time. Stay safe and enjoy your time. Plan ahead and allow plenty of time to do anything. Make sure to plan your meals unless you want to live off of Dippin Dots and Limited food options which is what I do. If you see me make sure and say hello. I would love to talk to and I am sure my daughters would love to meet you! Cheers! Let me know some of your awesome or not so awesome Cheersport National stories.