Cheer, gymnastics students gain courage, self-confidence

By Catherine Hosman

Local cheer students competed in Fun Cheer Nationals earlier this month in Huntsville. (Courtesy Photo)

Local cheer students competed in Fun Cheer Nationals earlier this month in Huntsville. (Courtesy Photo)

According to the Webster’s Dictionary the word courage is defined as “the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand fear or difficulty.”

It is this definition that gives Courage Cheer and Dance United in Liberty Hill the platform on which it helps to build children’s strength and confidence as they navigate their lives in the 21st Century.

“We give the children the courage to go beyond their comfort level and find new experiences they wouldn’t be able to find otherwise,” said Jason Hodges, general manager.

Justin Johnson, co-owner with his wife, Lauren, said when they were looking for a new name for their gym, they wanted one that embodied “our spirit and mentality.”

“It is the competitive nature of the sport itself that takes some of the hardest events of gymnastics and power lifting people, as opposed to weights, and putting that to choreographed music,” said Mr. Johnson. “We are a performance and attitude based program. We perform as a sport; we don’t just do a routine. So when our (teams) go out, they have to show off their skills, routines and personalities.”

Courage Cheer and Dance United is a full-service cheer and dance gym that offers children ages 2-18 classes in tumble, cheer, dance and stunt. It provides an after-school place for children to come, have fun and learn about sportsmanship and team building.

Now in its third year, cheer teams have walked away with first place wins in 29 national competitions in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

“We are incredibly excited,” Mr. Johnson said. “We are always preparing for the next season. We are making our classes and teams stronger and it (the awards) reinforces that we are doing the program the way we should be doing the program. We are always trying to find ways to improve internally as well as to build the kids up.”

  Building good cheer and courage

  When the Johnsons were looking to open a gym, they were looking for a potential area for growth where there was a need in the community for after school activities.

“Liberty Hill seemed to be the right place,” he said. “Lauren and I are both from Round Rock and it reminds us of how (Round Rock was) when we were younger.”

And they wanted to provide a cheerleading place that is a “positive environment and would build up children.”

“It instills confidence in the kids and when they feel needed, it makes them feel important in their lives,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Often viewed as a vanity sport, Mrs. Johnson said they are changing the mindset of parents in the community and showing them that Cheer and Dance is an athletic sport. She said the children take pride in doing things, as well as learn sportsmanship conduct, how to treat other people and everyday morals.

“It’s not just cheerleading and dance based,” she said. “It encompasses all the things they need to be a lady or a gentleman.”

Teamwork is essential to cheer and Mr. Hodges said cheer is one of the few sports in which girls work together as a team.

“If you have to build a pyramid and do stunts, if you don’t work as a group it doesn’t work,” he said. “Some kids are shy at first, standoffish, but after their first season as part of a team, it builds their confidence.”

Forming a team of courage

  The Johnsons’ mutual love of cheer began at Round Rock High School where they were both on the same cheer team. They’ve been married for five years.

Mrs. Johnson received her Bachelor of Science in Dance from Texas State University and became a certified teacher for dance. She taught dance at Georgetown High School and later started the dance and cheer team at East View High School, also in Georgetown. She left her position to commit full-time to Courage Cheer and Dance United.

Mr. Johnson has more than 20 years experience in gymnastics. He is a former University of Texas co-ed cheerleader and gymnast. When he is not at his gym, he is working in his position as a registered nurse at the Meridell Achievement Center, a psychiatric treatment center for youth, in Liberty Hill.

“It’s a different kind of calling,” he said, speaking about his nursing career. “You are still helping kids out, but in a little more serious way.”

General Manager Jason Hodges was a four-year gymnast at Indiana University and has more than 17 years of experience as a cheerleading and gymnastics coach.

All three are CPR, First Aid Certified, and USASF (United States All Star Federation) Level 5 Certified.

Other members of the team include Nancy Johnson, chief public relations specialist; Jordan Sprinkles, All-Star Team Coach; Jordyn Fox, assistant All-Star Team and Tumble Coach; Sarah Dickehut, assistant Tumble Coach; Jessica Yuja, camp instructor; and Cassidy Larkin, assistant Class Coach.

The gym is growing and so are plans to build a larger facility in Liberty Hill. The gym will more than double in size from 6,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet and will house multiple cheerleading floors, a larger trampoline, a larger rod floor, an in ground tumbling pit and plans for a climbing wall are in the works.

Mr. Johnson said enrollment has grown tremendously over the last three years. They started with 30 athletes in 2009 and currently have more than 300 enrolled in Teams and Classes. Coaches are responsible for helping numerous athletes receive college scholarships.

“People have said to us we did not expect a facility and business like this in Liberty Hill,” Mr. Johnson said. “A lot of Liberty Hill still doesn’t know we are here.”

The gym, located at 12830 W. State Highway 29 in Liberty Hill, is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m .to 3 p.m. for Camps. Regular classes begin after 3 p.m. The facility is taking registration for summer camps and provides for early drop-off and late pick-up to help working parents. Fridays and Saturdays are open gym days.

For more information, visit  the website.