After seven years of coaching high school teams, Carol Brown fell in love with competitive cheer... so in May of 2004 space for two hours of practice twice a week was rented from the local YMCA; her husband, Bill, purchased the 42’x42’ flex-mat-floor; and the first tryouts were held for the newly founded, non-profit, USA Stars. The colors (Red, White & Blue) and the mascot (Stars) were not just random choices. Carol and her family were not born in the United States – they are naturalized citizens. The colors of the flag and patriotic team names truly mean something to Carol – she is a Brit by birth, but an American by choice. That first week of tryouts netted 17 girls and 1 boy and the Stars began their journey into the competitive cheer world. The USA Stars was created with many goals, one of which was to provide the opportunity to compete to those who would not normally be able to participate, so the Stars operating budget was extremely tight. Coaches volunteered their time and anything we could make or get for free was a must. Practice time at the YMCA was valuable (and rolling out and rolling up the mats every session was a major hassle), so anything that could be done at Carol’s house was a way of life... meetings, choreography, and sometimes actual practices in the garage, the basement and even in the driveway. By the end of the first season, the Stars had 32 participants and created two teams that had competed locally and in Philadelphia, Wildwood, and Myrtle Beach. The dreams had begun for everyone.
The Stars held their second tryout in May of 2005 and we grew to 48 participants. Due to scheduling snafus, it was evident that we needed to secure a different practice venue. A youth wrestling program/party gym company offered us three nights a week plus time on Saturday at a price we could handle... so, even though we still had to roll out and roll up our mats, the Stars made the switch to the new location – which was less than three miles from Carol’s home. By the time the fall season started there were 50 athletes split equally on a Junior and Senior team. The Stars were competing at the now defunct elite level for Seniors and intermediate for Juniors and were beginning to win 1st or 2nd place at most events... including three Grand Champs awards for the Seniors. But the USASF was up and running and it was evident that changes were on the way, so Carol headed for her first Coaches Conference in Orlando – and a chance to watch the finals of the 2006 USASF World’s competition where her eyes were opened to what the world of competitive cheer really was and how much a governing body like the USASF was needed. The USA Stars jumped on the bandwagon and became a member of the USASF.
During the previous season, multiple issues were encountered with our practice facility (no power, no toilet, our mats being “used” by others) and we were approached by the owner of the entire building... the current “occupants” would be losing their lease so would we be interested in becoming the sole renters of the 3500 SF space. Obviously, we said yes and spent a very long weekend scrubbing mold off the walls, cleaning the floors, washing windows, and painting, rearranging and fixing everything we could. Bill Brown stepped up and bought a refrigerator, TV, chairs, tables and supplies, so that the facility would be ready for its first in-house camp the following Monday. The Stars still had a Junior and Senior team and were working to make sure both teams were placed in the correct levels. They were winning a lot and top team was earning multiple Grand Champion awards. We even had an awesome parent team that won 1st place in Myrtle Beach in the spring. In addition, in December a cross-link foam-block floor was purchased and then built (by parents), along with a tumble trak, landing mat, stackables, and a cheese wedge... at no cost to the organization. Once again, Bill provided the funds needed to keep the Stars program up to date. Carol again attended the USASF Coaches Conference in April, along with the Stars’ tumbling coach... and was once more motivated from the classes, contacts, and watching the finals at Worlds.
We were finally beginning to grow! A mini team was added and we had over 60 athletes – not a big gym but a solid one – solid enough to begin dreaming of building (or acquiring) a larger facility. With five teams on the floor, more time need for Open Saturday tumbling and high schools looking to rent practice space, the idea of a two-floor facility made sense. The time seemed right, so plans were drawn up by Carol, while Bill searched for the right location. The Stars teams were competing 8-12 times a year and were beginning to win on a regular basis. With tumbling instruction now consistently provided, overall skills were getting stronger and we were becoming a program that could win. Coach Stamy had joined the staff and was providing much needed support. We had not earned a 1st place in Wildwood for our top cheer team but loved that event and continued to go. At the USASF Coaches Conference, hands-on skills classes along with round-robin discussions gave the USA Stars coaches some great ideas in addition to the motivation that came from watching Worlds the day before!
Land had been found and plans drawn up for a new, 7500 SF building that would house two full floors, a tumbling area, storage space, a conference room, three bathrooms, a snack area and a parent viewing room upstairs. We would have to grow to 100 participants to be able to handle the financial burden but we were on our way – we had over 80 participants on five teams – Minis, Juniors, two Senior teams and even an Open team that began in mid-year. We had new “sparkly” uniforms and competition bows that were bought – not hand-made! We had team tumbling for everyone, along with flyer and stunt classes. Although our teams were winning (still not the top team in Wildwood L), there was a growing concern that many families would feel the pinch of the impending recession and some of our athletes would no longer be part of our program. Carol attended the USASF Coaches Conference with a heavy heart in hopes of finding answers to the problems the recession was creating.
Bill Brown had been paying close attention to the country’s economic situation and felt we should not break ground this year. He believed that the country was headed for economic difficulties that would reduce our numbers and put us in the red if we built now – and he was correct. The recession (and outside recruiting) had hit us hard, the Stars dropped in numbers, and the building was put on hold. The construction plans were approved for five years so we would have to wait and see what the future would bring. To pick up our spirits, Bill had air conditioning installed in our current facility and purchased several new tumbling mats. And, since the USA Stars staff always maintained a “glass-half-full” mentality, they shook off their disappointment and got busy making the best teams could with what they had... and they succeeded. Our Level 5 Senior Team won its first national event and almost earned a bid to Worlds – there were 8 bids awarded and we were 9th! We still had our other teams but were using more crossovers. In the spring, we went to US Finals in Virginia Beach and our Senior Team (now competing at Level 4) placed 7th at the event, and 8th overall in the country... even after losing eight team members in January and having to rebuild very quickly. This year, the USASF split the Coaches Conferences into multiple regional events and as usual, Carol and staff were in attendance... but they truly missed watching Worlds in Orlando and being motivated by the performances.
In our conservative location, economic issues resulted in families tightening their belts which lowered our overall numbers even more. We still had four cheer teams but crossovers became a way of life. New coaches had signed on, our Saturday Tumbling classes were expanding, and we replaced the 42’x42’ foam-block floor with a 54’x42’ spring floor in May of 2010. We were still operating in the black and weathering our nation’s financial storm amazingly well. In the spring we competed at an event in support of Breast Cancer Research. Only the Senior Cheer and Senior Dance Teams attended. The athletes raised money for new pink bows, pink T-shirts for all participants and fans, and then presented the event hosts with a check for over $800 as a donation to the cause. The Stars continued to compete 8-12 times a year and still made sure we traveled to a couple of bigger events – an experience that helped open the eyes of participants and parents as to what was now needed to succeed. What won a competition five years ago was no longer enough. The requirements were changing and the Stars needed to adapt or face failure. At the USASF Coaches Conference other gyms were experiencing the economic “pinch” and advice was shared by all who attended.
Locally several gyms were experiencing financial issues and some had to close. The Stars were small but still going strong with a Youth Team, a Senior Team, and an International Level 5 Team. We also decided to begin a competitive dance program... using more crossovers... and it was a success. We had small Senior and Junior teams who did very well and helped ensure that the dance program would continue. In addition, we added our Twinkles program – designed to introduce little ones ages 3-5 to the world of competitive cheer without the pressure of competition... and this too was a great success! The International Team was given the opportunity to compete in Atlanta at the Cheersport National event and although the team had some personal issues, the event itself was one of the very best we have ever attended. Huge, well run, and totally amazing... we could only hope that we would be able to return in the future. The I-5 team also just missed a bid to Worlds in the spring – once again, 8 bids awarded and we were 9th. At the USASF Coaches Conference, issues regarding ethics, “required skills” in rubric schematics, and small gyms vs. large gyms were hot topics and the discussions were “heated” to say the least... no solid answers but the questions were definitely noted by the USASF leadership.
This season our numbers increased by a few and we had Mini-1, Youth-2, Senior-2, and Senior-4 cheer teams along with Mini, Junior and Open Dance teams... and of course our Twinkles program continued. Jane Miller and Denise Logan were added to the cheer coaching staff and they both brought the willingness to work and a wide range of experience to the table... and a new page was turning in the USA Stars history. We began offering skills classes in the spring/summer break that were open to anyone and that decision turned into a big success. Skills taught could be taken back to other programs, but more important, prospective new athletes could come in, learn, and work with other Stars (and coaches) and decide to join the program. These skills classes were a big help. Competition had increased at all events and winning was harder than ever. Although throughout the season we were 1st or 2nd most of the time, US Finals at Virginia Beach was rough to say the least... we did, however win the Best Fans award which is quite an accomplishment considering how small we were in comparison to the other gyms in the contest. Add in several Grand Champion Dance (Juniors won that award both days in Wildwood) and Cheer banners and the Stars had a very positive year. Practice space in the gym was completely full, we had grown a bit in numbers, and it seemed as though the financial tide may be turning. The USASF Coaches Conference was still discussing skill and business items and as always, the USA Stars coaches were there to learn from their peers.
At the start of the between year break, the spring/summer skills sessions were filling up quickly and Twinkles was still going strong. After evaluations, the Stars had cheer teams for Mini-1, Youth-2, Senior-2, Senior-4 and Junior and Senior dance teams that would be competing all year. We had added a couple of new tumbling mats and spruced up the facility. Our Saturday Tumbling classes had to be split up to accommodate the numbers and everyone was excited to see the new season begin. We held our own at competitions but getting 1st places or Grand Champ awards was getting harder and harder to do. We had a lot of very young and talented athletes but as a group they lacked experience... experience that they would hopefully gain throughout the season. Cassandra VanNuys had joined the program to coach dance. Both cheer and Dance fought hard for every award they received... and built a strong foundation for the next year. At the USASF Coaches Conference, a “Dance-Track” of sessions had been added plus new divisions, new rules for attire, new safety rules and lots more were up for discussion by everyone – and Carol was having a private discussion of her own – she was beginning to consider retiring.
What a truly crazy year... difficult issues with staff, conflicts with parents, and finding the right people to take over the gym were at the top of the list for Carol and Bill. Early in the summer of 2014, Carol began talking with Denise Logan and her husband, Bill, as to whether they would consider becoming the leaders of the USA Stars. Carol had only worked with Denise for a short time but it did not take long to realize that Denise and Bill would be a perfect couple to take over the responsibilities. They decided to go for it, so plans were made and the transfer of information began. Carol’s next concern was finding the right person to take over coaching cheer top team... and her prayers were answered. Heather (Bowers) Redding – a former USA Star had graduated from the University of Maryland (where she was on the competitive cheer team) and was excited to come and join the program. And her husband Luke also jumped in with both feet to become a member of the Stars operating team... But all of this information would not be announced until the end of the year so it was still business as usual. This season would put Mini-1, Youth-2 and Senior-3 cheer teams on the floor along with Youth and Senior Dance. What started out great soon fell under Murphy’s law – if it could go wrong it probably will. Injuries, bad behavior, poor grades, family disputes – you name it and “it” affected our teams across the board. Yet somehow, everyone persevered and all the teams continued to compete... winning a few, losing by a hair, and, finally, our top cheer team earns a 1st place in Wildwood! And our Youth Dance earned Grand Champs on Saturday and the Open Dance were Grand Champs on Sunday. After receiving awards in Wildwood, Carol (and husband, Bill) announced her retirement from the USA Stars. There was one more competition left at Pier Six in Baltimore and after Senior Dance won Grand Champs, Youth Cheer took 1st place, Minis were amazing, Youth Dance was wonderful, and Senior Cheer outscored a long-time rival, Carol’s final season with the Stars was over. After a cold but wonderful day, a bittersweet goodbye, and the announcement of the beginning of the Coach Brown scholarship fund, Carol passed the torch to the new leadership (Denise & Bill Logan and Heather & Luke Redding) – full well knowing the future of the USA Stars was in exceptionally capable hands.