All-Star Performance Institute in Columbia, Missouri trains athletes from the age of three or four all the way up to their teen years.
The athletes there, commonly known as cheerleaders, don’t fulfill the traditional idea of pom-pom-wielding boosters on the sides of sports games, rather they compete in their own sport.
Competitive cheer is a sport that requires athletes to combine gymnastics and dance abilities. The major stunts in the routines require “bases” to throw “flyers” ten or 15 feet in the air and catch them before the hit the spring-loaded floor.
Melissa Wilhite opened the gym in 2016, and has watched the business grow every year. With the Olympics now as an option for her athletes, she trains them even harder with the goal of competing on a collegiate level and hopefully, at the global Olympic level.
“It’s been a sport that has been needing to be recognized for a long time,” Wilhite said. “For the world to truly see what they do, I think it going to be amazing.”
Because of these major stunts, tumbles and flips, cheerleaders training for bright futures are prone to injuries. Luckily, API has a certified doctor at every practice and competition.
Chiropractor Monique White has her own private room in the gym to assess athletes’ injuries.
“There’s just a ton of repetitive movements, unnatural movements, a lot of pounding…that can really take a toll on the body,” the doctor said.
The athletes say cheer can be just as hard, if not harder, than other conventional sports. The girls all spoke over each other when saying cheer “makes you die” more than football does.
“People have a skewed vision of what cheer is. People don’t realize what the athletes go through,” Wilhite said.
The amount of trust that goes into each of the stunts in cheer allow for a close bond between the team members.
Amy Sapp’s daughter Carly has been training under Wilhite’s coaching for three years. “The athletes are so passionate about it and so dedicated to what they do, that it’s just really fun to watch.” Sapp said Carly’s success in the difficult cheer skills has led to a boost in her daughter’s confidence.
API cheerleaders are now hoping to put that devotion and confidence toward winning a paid trip to Orlando, Florida to compete at “The Summit,” a world competition in Disney’s Wide World of Sports ESPN Center.
Exam is hosted by Molly Dove