By Stephanie Bernaba
It is one thing to be a parent, shuttling children dutifully to and fro, writing checks for uniforms, registration fees, and special shoes. It is totally another to build, from the ground up, an all-star cheerleading gym from literally nothing, after your child’s existing cheer gym suddenly closes.
Most would wince at the idea, claiming no expert knowledge of the sport. Most of us would shrug our shoulders and move our child to another gym or possibly onto a new activity altogether.
But when dad and owner of LOPCO Contracting, Tom Lopatosky, learned his daughter Tamara’s gym was in the process of folding, he sprang quickly into action. This Classical High School graduate and small business owner knew nothing about running a cheer gym, had no idea how to prepare for a competition, or organize athletes to cheer, but was so motivated by his daughter and her friends from the gym’s love for cheer and cheering together, that he could not sit back and watch it all end.
He found a most fitting individual to join him on this venture – coach Allison Swallow. One of Tamara’s favorite coaches and instructors, Allison had always dreamed of opening her own gym. With Tom’s business smarts and Allison’s cheer background, they decided to jump in head first and create Cheer UP Athletics.
Though he felt the road ahead would be rocky, he set out to continue providing these displaced athletes the space and instruction they’d lost. After an exhaustive search for the perfect location, large enough to properly accommodate mats and equipment, and close enough for cheer families to attend (some from as far away as Massachusetts and Connecticut), the pair settled on an old mechanic’s shop at 425 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903 – ironically just a few streets away from his alma mater.
The shop was quickly transformed into a cheer gym, and the duo got to work registering families and setting up practices. Cheer UP Athletics opened officially in July 2016 to teach athletes ages five and up the art of all-star cheer. The gym also provides instruction to local schools and youth athletic programs, bringing cheer teams into their gym to teach tumbling technique.
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All told, the gym sees approximately 900-1000 youths per year, providing both a half-year and full year program in the process, filled with competitions, tumbling, and instruction for local athletes.
The cheer gym has been going full-steam for the past year, and is very active in competitions, averaging 10 per year for its full year teams. The pair tries to make cheer (which can become expensive) accessible to all families, and brings in beginning athletes of all abilities.
A typical practice week of full year all-star cheer would include one two-hour practice, one two-and-a-half-hour practice, and one hour of tumbling on the weekend. Participants are expected to attend the competitions as well.
If your child loves competitive cheer or simply is interested in learning how to tumble, Cheer UP Athletics is certainly the place to go. And the school is currently enrolling for its half-year program, which runs from December 2017 to May 2018 and has ongoing registration through November 2017.
I was touched by the inspirational way this gym came into being, and the time and dedication given by its owners, the athletes, and their families.
Stephanie Bernaba, of Richmond, is an independent journalist specializing in life in the digital age and entertainment. View her recent work and digital portfolio at www.whiteorchidmedia.com.