There is a cheerleading story that has needed to be told for years. Unfortunately, in a world of cheerleading ruled by industry, cheerlebrities, and mega gyms, this story gets over shadowed by many others. It is the story of how cheerleading grew to become the size it is. A story of where it came from. A story about the people that never stopped doing what they loved. A story of true dedication, overcoming obstacles, and never saying never. It is a story that every one of you will identify with and remember forever. This is the story of cheerleading’s hidden heroes.
Most media about cheerleading focuses on a few brand name gyms and brand name coaches in high population areas. We hear about and see cheerlebrities each day on social media, in advertisements, and on the pages of magazines. What if I told you none of this would have ever happened if it were not for some unsung heroes? That is exactly the case, and it is now time that the hundreds of these heroes of our sport get some recognition and respect!
Have you ever heard of Corinth, Mississippi? It is a town of about 15,000 in north Mississippi. To put that size into perspective, Dallas has around 1,250,000 residents. We are basically talking about Mayberry! So what does a town with about 1% of the population of Dallas, Texas have to boast about? CHEERLEADING! That’s right! You most likely have never heard of Lancaster’s Cheerforce, but they have been around for nearly two decades. In that time they have proven to be successful and have even defeated teams from gyms 100 times their size!
Lancaster’s Cheerforce does not have the greatest facility. In fact, they cannot even perform their entire routine at their gym. See, at the gym, the ceiling is not quite high enough. Tim Lancaster, the owner of Cheerforce, had to remove some ceiling tiles in the building’s roof in order for his team to be able to stunt. The stunt area is only a small portion of the competition floor, and that floor is also undersized. That means the Lancaster’s Cheerforce teams can only throw their routine full out when they get to a competition. The warm up floor is the first full out practice they have!
Most would think this would stop Lancaster’s from doing well, but they would be wrong. Lancaster’s has won more Grand Champion trophies in their area than most other teams combined. This includes some very large programs. Tim explained to me the passion he had for the sport, his focus on technique, and his unwillingness to compensate for profit and glory while training his teams to become the best they can be. So where did that get Tim?
He does not have the largest gym. He does not have the biggest name. He does not have Worlds rings or tons of jackets to boast about, but he has something even better. Tim has provided many of the colleges and universities in his area superb athletes. He has helped those kids get college scholarships. He has taken many groups of serious athletes in a very small town and given them the opportunity to compete against the best, and he has helped them win. He has changed lives for the better, and he would not have it any other way. I can only imagine what Tim would have had if he would have been in Dallas 20 years ago; but Tim will tell you, he wanted the kids from Corinth to experience the same great things. I am thankful he was successful in that quest.
In any definition of the word, Tim is a true hero in cheerleading. He represents hundreds of other gym owners and coaches who work under less than perfect conditions in tiny towns across the world. He is a coach that has the passion to continue to educate and the will power to push through the obstacles. He may never win a Worlds ring and may never have more than 50 athletes in his program; but without Tim and people like him, cheerleading would not be where it is today.
In a tiny town of Gonzales, Louisiana there is another super hero of our sport. In a town of under 10,000 (Atlanta and Miami areas are both in the multi millions), Impact Cheer has made a great impact! Belinda Harvey, a coach for over 20 years, when she began her journey to provide for the kids in Gonzales. Starting in a 700 square foot store, she wanted to show the kids great positive things that could happen if they worked hard. Belinda used her skills as a social worker and cheerleading coach to do that. In the past year, Impact has won tons of titles, Grand Championships, and even received paid bids to end of the year events!
Before you clap your hands for this team and their accomplishments, let me explain to you their obstacles. Impact operates on 3 mats. That’s right, three mats with no spring floor. You would never be able to tell this when you see them perform. Recently, I watched one of their many teams win the overall best dance award at a very large event! I have enjoyed seeing Impact many times and have witnessed them take home armfuls of trophies, but that was not what impressed me the most.
I saw proud Impact parents and family members arrive on a bus very early in the morning, and I watched them stand and cheer at the late night awards ceremony for every single child in that program and others, regardless of the placement or what team they were on. I saw them take pictures, smile, cheer, hug, clap, and embrace, but I never saw something I expected. I never once saw them make any excuse. I never saw them complain about their gym, their situation, their placement, or their struggles. I know this has to be a mixture of great parents, a great town, and extremely positive outlooks; but I know it is their coach and her staff instilling this in each and every one of those kids. Jamilla Elie is a church friend of Belinda; and as a former gymnast, basically volunteers her time with the kids as a tumbling coach. After that, it is Mia and Nadia Harvey that help Belinda, their mom, in all aspects of the program from choreography to rules, to skills instruction; but they do it with a passion to provide great and affordable experiences for all the kids involved. For this, they are all heroes!
I wish I could go on, and I wish that you would like to read more about cheerleading’s unsung heroes, but that would be too large of a book to write. I know many of you reading this are reading because you too were influenced by a hero of your own. You may have learned to love the sport in a tiny gym with very few mats, no air, barely any heat, and a few trophies on the wall that you worked very hard for. You remember that coach who pushed you. You remember because it helped you love this sport. You understand completely what the Impact and Lancaster’s Cheerforce programs mean to the kids and the families in their area. You want them to be recognized, and you, as well as I, know we need not recognize just a few but thousands of these extraordinary and loyal leaders. Because of them, the growth of our sport has been amazing; and due to them, in most cases, it stays positive and educational.
I challenge you to go to them and do two things. The first is to thank them. These types of coaches do not live off of rings and jackets, and their goal is not to put out cheerlebrities and live in the spotlight by starting drama. These coaches, however, love our sport and want to share the positive things it has to offer with a new generation. A simple “thank you” will mean more than you can ever imagine.
The second thing I ask you to do is support them. If you came from a place like this, or even if you did not, you must realize these types of gyms make up over half of the gyms in the world. For our sport to survive, so must they. Help them raise money; help them raise awareness of the benefits of cheerleading; help them get equipment; help them with volunteer coaching; but most of all, help them by being involved and staying involved. You too could become one of cheerleading’s hidden heroes!
Cheer! wants to hear your stories! Do you know of a program or an unsung hero that should be featured? Let us know! Email your nomination to [email protected] and let us know!