A small time gym has been accomplishing big time things.
Flip City Gym and Arizona Spirit All Star Cheerleading won its first ever national title at the American Grand National All Star Cheerleading Championship on Dec. 14, held at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Its youth team, G Force, which has 12 athletes aged 7 to 11, and mini team, Spitfires, which has nine members aged 4 to 8, took home titles.
They competed and won in the large gym division, but between the four total teams at Flip City, there are only 39 athletes.
After the first day of competition, G Force was ranked last.
“We had some errors on day one,” co-owner and coach Shelley Altman said. “We were not anticipating a high place.”
The winners are decided by scoring from a panel of judges across two days of competition. Each day the team gets a two-and-a-half- minute window to perform a routine that includes tumbling and stunts, with emphasis on level of difficulty and execution.
“They adapted to changes, and not only that, but they executed it so well they ended up winning,” Danny Altman, husband to Shelley, coach and co-owner, said.
As errors occur, judges deduct points from the team’s total score, but only 25 percent of the first day’s score factors into the final score after day two.
What makes the team so successful, according to parents and the Altmans alike, is the family bond and obsession for the sport the athletes have grown to have.
“As long as we keep them happy and excited,” Danny said. “The faster they will progress.”
“It’s incredible,” Delisha Kitts, mother of Ashelyn Kitts of the G Force team, said. “It’s become our life, we’re like a family.”
Aside from the skills that the athletes learn, they also learn valuable life lessons, too.
“We learn teamwork and we learn about each other,” Taiva Michaelis of G Force said.
Rylee Boykin, also of G Force, mentioned that they learn about sportsmanship and confidence, which is something Danny said is the most difficult for the athletes. At the Vegas competition, they performed on a stage under bright lights in front of thousands of people.
“There’s character building we do,” Danny said. “Teaching the kids how to handle pressure like that.”
“These kids are fearless,” Shelley added.
Flip City is the only place in northern Arizona where kids can compete in competitive cheerleading and gymnastics at a high level. Danny and Shelley are the biggest reason for that.
The two talked about progression a lot. Constantly having their athletes progress, having them see that they can accomplish more than what they believe.
“The one biggest challenge is the learning curve, at this age especially,” Danny said. “Sometimes it feel’s too big at the start. As athletes they think they know their limits, but as coaches we know they can go further.”
Danny was a national champion and state champion in California several times over before being crowned world champion in 2009 and competing internationally.
Shelley, who began cheering at 8, was a cheerleader in college.
After working as coaches at other gyms, the two became fed up with having athletes they had been training taken away from them, so they decided to open their own gym.
“It’s phenomenal,” Michelle Werth, mother of a G Force athlete, said. “There’s no program in this area with this level of coaching.”
Another highlight for both the parents and coaches is that the kids travel, some had never left the Verde Valley before.
“I learned that Las Vegas is very crowded,” Michaelis said.
Danny talked about the biggest challenge to growing the sport in the area being the stereotype that competitive cheerleading is a female sport.
Flip City has four boys on its roster, and have even had athletes from the Mingus Union High School football team join.
“As female dominated as it looks at the moment, it really hasn’t been,” Danny said. “If you look at college teams, there’s a lot of men in the sport.”
The overall goal of the gym is to provide an opportunity for the kids to get scholarships to college, but along the way they enjoy seeing the kids grow and progress both athletically and personally.
Flip City just moved into a 10,000-square-foot facility next to Cottonwood Airport that includes an academic preschool, competitive gymnastics and competitive cheerleading areas. Before, they were in a facility with a working space two-thirds of the regulation size.