Kindness in Cheer is Not Dead
I have a tale to share with everyone. It is a tale that I think will bring a slight glimmer of hope to the hearts of cheer fans all over the land. It is a tale of an organization, a team, and another organization. It is a tale about how the selfish and unkind acts of others bring out the best in some and the gratitude in others.
Last summer our gym was in the process of getting ready for the upcoming season. All of our teams were practicing hard, chorography was going on, and the skills were slowly coming around. We had ventured into the world of Coed cheer, as well as upped our top skill level in the gym to a level 4. Our athletes were all working so hard to hone their skills and bring home trophies and accolades from all over.
Our gym owner is a tiny woman with a huge heart. I don’t know how else to describe her. She is a very petite mother of three boys and with the man that won her heart in college lives a very nice life. She appreciates all she has and puts her family first. She also loves cheerleading and does it for one reason and one reason only – for the kids. Each and every kid in the gym she knows and speaks to every parent that has an athlete in the program. She takes time to know the athletes of the program, and takes a personal interest in each of them. She has cheered since she was young, and coached for a team right out of college. She went into all-star after she was done teaching, one of the co-founders of our gym in 2005. Each year the gym numbers have grown to the point of over 100 this past year. The numbers – while nice – are not important. She runs a program that is about the kids, family and making sure that cheer does not become a “rich kid sport” as she puts it. She never takes a paycheck, but she will be the first to tell you that she is blessed enough to be in the situation of not having to.
She has created a program that is respected by most gyms in the area, and she continually keeps on good terms with the programs that are around. Careful not to badmouth others, she is conscious of the image she wants her gym to have as well as helping other gyms. She is the first to tell you that she greatly admires the face of Green Bay Elite, Cherokee Greendeer, and conducts herself as she feels Cherokee does to help grow the sport and conduct things for the best of the kids wanting to participate in all-star cheerleading.
Well, this past summer she had found out something that sickened her. The program, which had been a friend of our program, may not be able to continue on. The owner of this other program that lost the athletes had been a friend of our gym owner for a very long time, and herself extremely respected in the world of cheerleading. She was a school coach, and started an all-star cheer organization at the urging of a woman that she had thought was her friend and partner. Long story short, there were a lot of people that were not going to have a place to cheer.
The cheer coach was sickened. She hadn’t been sure if she had wanted to go on, but realized that she had a group of about ten or so athletes that were not leaving her. These athletes were very special – as in Special Needs. There were other offers to go to other gyms to these athletes but the athletes that had been on this team were having none of it, waiting for the call from their long-time coach and friend. The cheer coach had no idea what she was going to do. She had not been able to operate a gym with only ten athletes, and she didn’t even know what she could do without an organization. This is where my gym owner came in.
The owner of the gym my daughter cheers at heard about everything and was literally sick to her stomach. How could this happen to athletes that only wanted to cheer? She was furious, and she immediately called the cheer coach. “Our gym is your gym,” she stated. “You keep your gym name, colors, uniforms, and anything else. If they pay, you will keep the money – your money is no good here with us. You can be under the umbrella of our gym and use our facility for your practices, and our resources as your own. You think about it and let me know.”
WHERE do you hear about ANYONE offering something like that? Not in many places do you hear an offer such as that and it being for free. The cheer coach knew that, and spoke to the other coach that stuck by her through everything. Between the two of them, they decided to gather up their bearings and keep the team going. They contacted the family, met with our gym owner and myself, and got everything in order to get things rolling.
I was involved in the meeting because I was asked to be a part of the program as a coach. I am not a cheerleader at all; I am a volleyball player. My strength is that I run an adult day service for developmentally disabled individuals. I have worked with the developmentally disabled for over ten years, working in residential and day service settings. I have dealt with some serious behavioral issues and been able to explain processes to others in a way that it is understood (without all of the technical jargon). It was a challenge that I accepted with a huge smile and my heart swelling with pride and honor. The athletes – all ten of them – were amazing athletes. We had athletes from our senior leveled teams as well as athletes from the cheer coach’s university program as helpers. These special needs athletes were indeed “special”. They worked hard; harder than most of the “normal” (I hate that term) athletes that were in any gym that I had seen. They would do and re-do parts of routines without complaint. They continued to pay attention and never wanted their practices to end. Dedication does not even begin to scratch the surface to describe these amazing men and women.
We added athletes during the season, and the “veterans” were eager to work with new friends. There was never any judgment over anyone. No one was too fat, too thin, not rich enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough and not from the right family. Everyone was a part of the team, and everyone was a friend. They went to competitions and rocked that mat like no other team there, and would end to standing ovations each and every time. They would be recognized, and no parents were yelling about their child not getting to be in the front of the routine or that they weren’t the point flyer. Every parent of every athlete smiled and took joy in seeing their children participating in something they loved.
My team walked through venues with hundreds of athletes, coaches, parents and operators and would get high-fives each time they passed. They had been asked for people to get their pictures taken with them. They were rock stars in the truest sense of the word! These young men and women were continually recognized at each event, and would be addressed as if they were “cheerlebrities”. Each time they performed I would think about how this almost wasn’t. This season was almost non-existent to these athletes. Sure – some would have gone to that other gym, and I am sure they would have had a wonderful experience. But within our gym, they got to do more. They cheered, and they also did individuals. That’s right! Not only did they do their team routine, but some were given opportunity to do individual routines for the fans in the stands! Athletes that were wheel-chair bound were out there holding signs that had printed on them tumbling moves for their tumbling runs. One young man was not a tumbler, but man could he dance!! He even had a friend from the university team that created the music for his routine – complete with voice overs! They got into it! Change of uniforms, bows, and music that had the crowd yelling and cheering for more! And their helpers were more than happy to allow them to shine during that time! They were moments that made any parent proud. Heck – my 8 year old daughter rushed up to me after the first time she saw them perform and hugged me. “I am so proud of you, mom,” she said as she hugged me tightly. That was MY line! I was supposed to say that to HER!
This all was almost a never happened. In an amazing demonstration of appreciation, solidarity and gratitude, at one of the events back in the coaches’ room while we were all eating lunch, the cheer coach pulled out a small box and handed it to the gym owner. “This is for you,” she said. “A small thank you for all that you have done; for what you didn’t have to do, but you did anyway. I can’t thank you enough,” the cheer coach said.
The gym owner opened the box. Inside was a rhinestone pin with letters spelling out her gym name, along with three stones dangling down from three of the letters of the pin. “How sweet,” said the gym owner. We could all see the tears forming in her eyes.
The cheer coach got out of her chair and walked over to her. “The purple stone is for the college team,” she explained. “The red stone is for your gym, and the teal stone is for the special needs team.” By then everyone was wiping away tears. What an amazing gesture I had gotten to witness that day. The gym owner stood up and hugged her, neither of them able to speak any longer because they were sobbing. “What you did was so amazing,” said the cheer coach through a hoarse voice. “You didn’t have to do what you did, and you didn’t give it a thought. No one else would have done that. But you did it. You offered us something that no one else would have offered us; you gave us a home and a family. And for that we thank you.”
In a season that I saw some very shameless things and actions that I couldn’t even fathom, I saw some extremely selfless actions. I was blessed to be a part of them, and I am so anxious to be a part of the next season to come! I will always keep that in my memory, how two programs truly became one and how someone gave so selflessly so that people she didn’t even know could do something they loved. I only hope that more can learn from example and grow from hearing this. There is good out there. At times it is hard to see, but it is there. You just have to look with your heart instead of your eyes.http://www.heartofcheer.com/cheerleaders/kindness-cheer-dead/http://www.heartofcheer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/dreamdells2.jpghttp://www.heartofcheer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/dreamdells2-150x150.jpgBlogCheerleadersCoachesIndustrycommitment,friendship,special needs,sportsmanship