Cheerleading isn't just for the sidelines at sporting events anymore. It's a fast-growing activity requiring strength and agility that is becoming popular among youths of all ages.
Founded four years ago with 43 participants, the Fort Dodge-based United All Stars Cheer Gym has grown to include four competitive squads, as well as recreational cheerleading and tumbling classes for more than 150 youths aged 4 to 18, said United All Stars Coach Mindy DeBaun.
"I went to my niece's all-star competition and I thought 'I can do this,'" DeBaun said. "So I became certified and started a squad in Fort Dodge."
DeBaun, who has more than 10 years experience as a cheer coach with Prairie Valley High School, coaches the squads alongside her daughter, Amanda Bowers, and several high school and college students with cheerleading experience. The United All Stars share a practice facility with the Iowa Central Community College cheerleaders on 14th Street Southwest. The squad was recently awarded the distinguished national Judge's Choice Small Gym Award for their squad, bringing home a banner and plaque of recognition during the American Spectacular cheerleading competition in Kansas City in November.
"That is truly an honor for us," she said. "A lot of the cheer gyms we compete with are in bigger cities with more than 400 cheerleaders."
The United All Stars competitive squads are made up of the Flash, a group for ages 8 years old and under; Lightning, age 11 and younger; Thunder, age 14 and under and Storm, for ages 14 to 18 years old. Each squad practices at least twice a week and participates in several competitions throughout the midwest. Tryouts are held each May for competitive squads, and Flame, a recreational cheer squad is available for those who want to get experience cheering but may not want to compete. The Flame group performs locally a few times a year.
Each squad has had success this year, placing at nearly every competition they have participated in. The Storm recently took first place at the American Spectacular in Kansas City, the squad's first ever senior level three championship, earning a bid to the All Level World competition in Las Vegas. The Lightning and Flash squads took second place at American Spectacular and Thunder finished in fourth.
"We've had really strong showings at every competition this year," said DeBaun. "Everyone's having fun, and we are doing great for a smaller group."
Contact Emilie Nelson at (515) 573-211 or firstname.lastname@example.org