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Job Interview: Loudon couple brings new face of cheerleading to Bow

  • Tumbling Instructor Jessica Smith (front, center) coaches Shyanne Lasage, 10, (front, left) during the open tumbling practice at the Limelight Elite All-Star Cheerleading gym in Bow; Tuesday, April 2, 2013. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Tumbling Instructor Jessica Smith (front, center) coaches Shyanne Lasage, 10, (front, left) during the open tumbling practice at the Limelight Elite All-Star Cheerleading gym in Bow; Tuesday, April 2, 2013.
    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Tumbling Instructor Jessica Smith (front, center) coaches Shyanne Lasage, 10, (front, left) during the open tumbling practice at the Limelight Elite All-Star Cheerleading gym in Bow; Tuesday, April 2, 2013. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Tumbling Instructor Jessica Smith (front, center) coaches Shyanne Lasage, 10, (front, left) during the open tumbling practice at the Limelight Elite All-Star Cheerleading gym in Bow; Tuesday, April 2, 2013.
    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Tumbling Instructor Jessica Smith (front, center) coaches Shyanne Lasage, 10, (front, left) during the open tumbling practice at the Limelight Elite All-Star Cheerleading gym in Bow; Tuesday, April 2, 2013. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Tumbling Instructor Jessica Smith (front, center) coaches Shyanne Lasage, 10, (front, left) during the open tumbling practice at the Limelight Elite All-Star Cheerleading gym in Bow; Tuesday, April 2, 2013. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Though it has been around for decades, all-star cheerleading is still a relatively underground offshoot – at least in New Hampshire – of its more popular pom-pom’d counterpart. But Ryan and Janice Nichols, a Loudon couple who have long cherished the sport, which is a blend of gymnastics and dance, are trying to change all that.

Their new gym, called Limelight Elite and located just off Route 3A in Bow, offers energetic youngsters the chance to develop basic and advanced acrobatic skills, such as flipping and tumbling, and become part of a driven team that competes in local and regional tournaments.

The couple started the gym last year, after finding an affordable warehouse space big enough to allow for running back-flips, human pyramids and lithe bodies being tossed in mid-air. Despite the demands of holding three other jobs and raising a 14-year-old son, Ryan and Janice have quickly transformed the 5,000-square-foot empty interior into a full-fledged gym with spring-form floors, trampoline runways and inspiring quotes painted on walls. And they did it frugally, sourcing equipment through Craigslist and making and selling cheerleading hair bows online to help offset costs.

Limelight has about 50 athletes between ages 6 and 19, but interest is growing, the couple said – and for good reason.

“There’s really no sport like it,” Ryan said. “It’s a pure team sport. In basketball you can sub someone in if a player is tired or injured. You can’t do that in all-star cheerleading. If you’re missing a person you can’t make a pyramid. If one person is sick, it affects everyone.”

Why all-star cheerleading?

My husband and I met when we were 17 years old. I was a cheerleader at Merrimack Valley High School. My husband was really impressed with cheerleading – it was not what he thought it would be at all. Then we got married and started working and I was kind of like, I miss cheering. So I started coaching middle and high school girls. Then we heard about all-star cheerleading and started watching it on TV. We were hooked immediately. What I like is it has all the elements – gymnastics, cheer, stunt (pyramids) and jumps.

How did you build your first teams?

We contacted the athletes I had coached in the past and networked through them, just seeing if there was any interest – and there was. That’s how we got our first batch together.

How well-known is all-star cheerleading?

It’s grown a lot in the last couple of years. Texas and Florida and California are the hot spots. We were thinking

about doing this for five years and by the time we did it four other gyms popped up in New Hampshire. But we are the only one in central New Hampshire. And we pride ourselves of being a low-cost alternative to more expensive, more established gyms in Massachusetts.

What is a typical season for an all-star cheerleader?

The season starts in May and ends in April, so they can get conditioning done before December, when the comps (competitions) usually start. When we first start in May, it’s all about conditioning and skill building. In July and August we start to figure out what stunts we’ll be able to do with each team (there are currently three teams, divided by age and skill level). Then we have a choreographer who comes in and teaches the kids the moves they’ll need for their routines.

What about boys? Has it been difficult to recruit them?

We definitely want more boys. Our son hadn’t done it before last year, but we wanted him to try and see what we do and he came down. He was a little overwhelmed with the girls at the time; he’s kind of shy. So we called his most outgoing friend, and he was on board, especially when he heard about all the girls. So those were our first two boys. And now we have a third. I know we’ve got some other boys that are interested for next season, so it’s growing.

What’s your long-term vision?

The dream is to eventually form a traveling team that competes in Virginia Beach or Dallas. That’s in the five-year plan. We’d also like to grow the gym and eventually double the space. But that’s a long ways away.

What obstacles have you faced while growing the business?

Like any other business we have concerns. With heating bills this winter being so high we were like, “We need to get some fans to help circulate the heat.”

Where do you compete?

We just got back from Rhode Island last weekend. We traveled to Springfield (Vermont) last year. We have been trying not pick competitions that are more than four hours away so people don’t have to stay overnight if they don’t want to or can’t afford it. Most do go and stay in a hotel. Being such a new business we try to keep our commuting costs down.

Who picks the music?

Ryan is a music producer on the side – he mixes songs for local high school and middle school squads – so he does that. The music is really meant just to highlight a routine.

Anything else?

It’s a very theatrical sport. It’s really, really great – a whole new world. It’s funny because the children are not the only ones getting hooked. The parents are, too. It kind of transforms you. But it’s definitely our lifestyle. There are kids I used to coach that come back years and years later just to say hi. We’ve been invited to their weddings. It’s neat to see them grow up.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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