Taking cheerleading to a whole new levelWritten by Mike Tressler | | firstname.lastname@example.org
At 15 years old, Brittany Gessner of Sylvania conceived a dream to start a gym for all-star cheerleaders. Now at age 29, Gessner has fully realized that dream as she credits herself the owner, creator and head coach of the first-ever all-star cheerleading program in the Toledo area: Cheerworks Sparks.
The team boasts 132 competitive members ranging in age from 18 months to 54 years. Gessner said it has taken a great deal of hard work and determination to get to that point.
Nine years ago, the original team formed and consisted of only 26 members, all of whom were students at Sylvania Northview and Southview high schools. Since the team was Sylvania-based, and Gessner’s favorite holiday is Independence Day, Sylvania Sparks became the team name.
The team colors are orange and black, a compromise between the orange and brown of Southview and the yellow and black of Northview. The team now includes members from many greater-Toledo area grade schools, junior highs and high schools.
Gessner said her gym exists to provide athletes with competition experience and training necessary to become college cheerleaders.
“High schools in this area are very limited,” Gessner said. “Cheerleaders can’t perform certain stunts or can’t learn certain skills because they are affiliated with their school. When high schools aren’t teaching up to level six, they limit their cheerleaders’ opportunities for the future. How are these athletes going to make a college team?”
The answer is by training with the Sparks.
“What you see on TV is what you get in this gym,” she said. “Tumbling, dance, stunts — the most elite kind of cheerleading there is. We’re getting fresh girls that have this desire, that want to be cheerleaders — and we’re going to make them great ones.”
Gessner said she cannot take all the credit for the success of Cheerworks Sparks.
“My staff is phenomenal,” she said, explaining that all her coaches are safety-certified through a four-level course covering everything from injury procedure training to spotting techniques for different stunts. “All our training is real and hands-on. There’s no trampoline or tumble track work because, realistically, these kids will not have that when they go out to compete,” Gessner said.
In addition to skill, technique and safety training, Gessner said her mission with Cheerworks Sparks is “to promote and require academic excellence among all athletes; to encourage and promote creativity and enthusiasm with a ‘be the best you can be’ attitude; and to instill a ‘team first, trophy second’ [mentality] in all athletes.”
Gessner said activities such as the buddy system (where older athletes are paired with younger ones to go through a competition or performance as special friends who will cheer each other on and offer support), a team song and inspirational quotations or poems help foster team spirit by teaching the athletes about respect, being good role models, setting and achieving goals and working together as a unit.
“Cheerleaders are a dime a dozen,” said Gessner. “The difference is, our dimes are gold, and that’s how we train them.”
Cheerworks Sparks is developing a special needs team. For more information on the Cheerworks Sparks, visit www.sparksignite.com.