Equipped with a martial arts dojo, four tumbling and cheer spaces, and a coffee bar for parents, the new Elite Cheer and Academy of Martial Arts is in the final stages of renovation. The new building is located at 3405 Oak View Drive. Upon completion, it will have a deluxe, sky-box style viewing area overlooking the main classroom so that parents may watch their children learn to tumble. The facility offers a wide variety of classes for ages three and up.
Kevin Hooker, one of the owners and operators, wears several hats at Elite Cheer. When the business began in 1993, he and his business partner, Lance, coached Lincoln Southeast High School all the way to the national championships. Soon after, they began getting referrals for athletes preparing for cheerleading tryouts. “That kick-started everything,” Kevin recalls. “We went from two to three kids to 30 kids…that’s when we started teaching private lessons.”
Currently, Kevin’s day-to-day has evolved into running the business, which has more than 30 employees. “I do not get to coach as much as I want to,” he comments. “The last four years have been dedicated to this building. I am really looking forward to coming back into coaching.” What he finds most rewarding about coaching is, unsurprisingly, the kids. “I knew I wanted to be a coach our first year when we were teaching a group of junior high kids and one of the girls got a skill she had never gotten before,” he shares. “That feeling of their accomplishment just punched me in the face.”
One of the great aspects of cheerleading as a sport is that virtually anyone can do it. “Every position has a specific athletic type,” Kevin notes. “As long as kids want to learn, and they want to put in the work to be an athlete, we can get them to be phenomenal athletes.” Using specialized flooring to aid in students’ progression, athletes learn the varying difficulties of jumps and tricks by beginning with certain surface types. “All of our progressions go from softer surface to harder surface,” Kevin explains. “For example, the trampoline is a softer surface than tumble track, which is a bit firmer.” Athletes eventually work their way onto the spring floor and finally onto foam.
Kevin stresses that every part of Elite Cheer’s training structure has a specific purpose, giving additional tools for training. For this reason, they have added levels to the traditional 1–5 system. “We broke it down even more because there are so many skill sets in our program. We now have level 1.5, level 2, level 2.5, level 3, level 3.5—just to give us a broader range of training.”
Overall, teaching the physical skills of gymnastics and cheer also teaches the young athletes about hard work, dedication, and the payoff for hard work over time. Shawna, a team volunteer and the mother of one of Elite’s 17-year-old athletes, says her daughter started tumbling at the age of eight and started doing cheer along with her friends. “The girls love it! The coaches push them to work their hardest. It’s good for them; it builds character.”
When Kevin first started coaching, there were few rules in cheer competition. Until the establishment of the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF), Elite Cheer essentially had creative liberty to try any move they put their mind to. This, however, is not the case today. “When we started this company, there were basically no rules,” Kevin recalls. “For the last 12 years, we have probably had a new rule set every year.” Like any innovative coach, Kevin takes his team as far as they can go without breaking the rules to impress at competition. An intimate knowledge of the rules can make or break a team at competition, in Kevin’s opinion. “If you do not have experience, you just will not do well.”
With a total of 14 teams to coach, Kevin and his staff have their work cut out for them. At Elite Cheer, their philosophy remains that the kids and their best interests always come first. “A lot of our success comes from our coaches,” Kevin says. “I would rather have a coach who loves kids than one who loves gymnastics. I can teach you how to be a gymnastics coach; I cannot teach you how to love kids.” This philosophy has served them well, because students keep coming back. Elite Cheer even has a Legacy Program, in which children of previous students can receive discounted rates on classes.
The other side of Elite is the martial arts instruction, where they teach Kenpo Karate and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. According to Kevin, they use martial arts as the vehicle to teach personal development. “Our students develop the skills they need to be successful not only on the mat but, more importantly, at the game of life,” says Kevin. “Building character traits like perseverance, integrity, humility, dedication, respect, discipline, and many others while they reach achievement of their goals helps them to build their self-esteem and confidence. Whether they train for a short time or their entire lifetime, they’ll use these benefits every single day for the rest of their lives.”