“To see where we’ve come in ten months is incredible,” says 705 Athletics founder Tara Slumskie, who has had an incredibly successful year leading the Sault’s newest cheerleading company.
Regarded as one of the country’s fastest growing forms of recreation, cheerleading has long been a challenge to market in smaller towns up north according to Slumskie.
“Cheerleading isn’t a well-known sport, especially in northern Ontario,” she says.
But last summer, the experienced cheerleading coach began putting feelers out in the community and eventually hosted several successful ‘come try cheerleading’ events which ended up generating a significant amount of local interest.
Before she knew it, 705 Athletics had filled up spots on three recreational teams and two competitive teams.
“I was hoping to just have enough interest to create a season out of this – I didn’t expect it to take off the way it has,” she says. “It’s been nothing but great.”
“The hope is to grow the sport,” she adds. “Cheerleading in northern Ontario is few and far between. There’s lots of teams in southern Ontario, but when you start to go up north, there’s definitely a lot less.”
Between their recreational and competitive programs, as well as their new Pom team, 705 Athletics has brought together 75 local athletes between the ages of five and 36.
“Having the number of kids that we have is fantastic,” she says. “Starting the first year with that much interest was surprising but I’m very grateful.”
Cheerleaders on their U18 competitive team recently earned a first-place finish at Cheer Evolution Winterfest in Kingston – an annual competition that brings cheer squads together from across the country with a focus on team spirit, confidence building, and routine perfection.
Back in January, that same team also finished first at Extreme Chill in Barrie, while 705 Athletics’ other competitive team also had a strong showing.
Slumskie says competitions like those ones help put the Sault on the cheerleading map, and their results are reflective of the positive messages they try to share with their athletes.
“Getting that recognition is really cool,” she says.
“I think it comes down to the environment we’ve created. Our coaches are always projecting being inclusive, upbeat, and helpful, and I think that resonates with the kids.”
“The kids come into practice knowing they’re going into a place where even if they’ve had a bad day, they’ll have a good practice. It’s a positive environment, and our coaches try their very best to make every interaction as positive as they can be.”
Recreational cheer participant Anneliese Chiarot is in her third year of cheerleading and her first year with 705 Athletics.
Turning ten years old last weekend, she’s already working towards a spot on one of the club’s competitive teams.
“I like the stunts like cradle and flying,” she says. “I love getting tossed in the air and being high up. I’m having a lot of fun with my friends and learning new things.”
Enjoying being part of a team, Chiarot is thankful for her instructors who have helped guide her this year.
“The teachers are really fun, and you get to do lots of stuff with them like tumbling,” she says. “They help you a lot which I really like.”
Meanwhile, cheerleading is brand-new for Lyla Johnson, an eight-year-old who has also been enjoying her time on one of the company’s recreational teams.
Having tried dance before, Johnson says she’s enjoying cheer much more.
“I get to learn new things,” she says. “I get to perfect things too. It’s just been really fun.”
Winning athlete of the month for February, Johnson says she appreciates all the help she’s received in her first year as a cheerleader.
“They’re really nice and they helped me when I was trying to do a half-aerial,” she says. “Another girl was nice and helped me with my cartwheel. They teach us lots of new things.”
With the help of four instructors, Slumskie says having the opportunity to mentor the younger ones is something she doesn’t take for granted, and she’s looking forward to seeing her athletes continue to grow and develop their skills.
“I started cheerleading when I was younger, so being able to help and coach and see those young kids is awesome because I see myself in them and that passion,” she says. “It’s really fulfilling.”
“The sport incorporates gymnastics, dance, stunts, and working as a team. It’s a good thing to start with because the kids can go off later and be a gymnast or a dancer.”
Operating on Churchill Avenue, 705 Athletics will be wrapping up their season at the end of May with a Cheer Expo, which will bring together their competitive, recreational, and Pom teams together for a showcase.
Slumskie says their competitive season will start back up again in August, and the recreational season will begin in September.
“I’m really hoping this is something that can grow over the years,” she says. “I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened this year.”
Anyone interested in joining the club or wishing to apply for a coaching position next season can reach out to 705 Athletics by emailing email@example.com or by calling 705-989-7367.