SCA wins new place to cheer

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 5, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

As the October wind swept across her face, Teda Barrows was worried.

Though her Suffolk Cheer Attitude (SCA) program had sent a team of cheerleaders to national competition the year before and was poised to watch a few more head down to Disney World to compete against America’s best in early 2004, Barrows couldn’t help but feel vexed about SCA’s future. Budget cuts had kept her girls from a reliable place to practice over the summer, forcing them to move from place to place as the months went on. As the head of a group that had grown from one team to five (and from 16 girls to over 200) since its 2000 inception, Barrows knew she needed to find stability for SCA – fast.

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But she didn’t want to purchase an already-constructed building; she hoped to take her mental image of a center filled with the best and safest equipment and mats and a 25-foot high ceiling to launch flying cheerers into the stratosphere, and turn her view into reality. Driving around Suffolk, she spied an area beside the Sara Lee Building on Commerce Road in the Wilroy Industrial Park. Encompassing a nearly 40- by 40-foot area, it seemed a perfect place for Barrows to construct her own amusement center for her girls to sharpen their cheering and stunting skills. Barrows stood and stared over the grassy area and looked toward the future – one where she and her cheerers wouldn’t have to worry about budgets, cramped availability schedules, high weather temperatures, or other obstacles.

She knew she’d have to act quickly – a location so beneficial might get snapped up by anyone with a good idea for it. Barrows quickly contacted Bill Chick, who owned the building immediately adjacent to the area.

&uot;I thought her idea was pretty cool,&uot; said Chick, whose building currently houses a welding company for Sara Lee. &uot;What she brings to Suffolk is enthusiasm, and that’s infectious. It’s good for the kids and good for the city, and you can’t say no to that.&uot; Unfortunately, his wasn’t the only approval Barrows would need; she had to convince the Suffolk Planning Commission that her idea was worth a permit to construct it.

She began writing and e-mailing nearly every gymnastics center in the country, asking for their aid. They wrote back that gymnastics was indeed an indoor sport, one that would allow for the building of an amusement center (not a health center or gym; these are not allowed in industrial parks).

In January, the Commission said yes. The next month, five SCA squads went to Florida, and the Pee-Wee (ages 9-10) team came back with the program’s first national title. While the youngsters were celebrating in the Magic Kingdom, Barrows noticed one of her girls staring up at the fireworks.

&uot;Is this real, Ms. Teda?&uot; the child asked. &uot;Is this really real? This is like a dream come true.&uot; Barrows knew that hundreds of kids’ dreams and ambitions would be put in jeopardy if her plans to create her own center fell through.

One more group had to agree; the Suffolk City Council. On June 16, Barrows and over 50 members of her team marched into the council

meeting, asking for a conditional-use permit that would give her the final permission to create the new house of fun.

Barrows had written a speech, and then re-written it about 20 times. She’d already put nearly $5,000 into the project (the Planning Commission request cost roughly $700 itself), all of which could go up in smoke if the seven council members denied her request.

She remembers it well. Barrows stepped to the podium and introduced herself. Then she sat down and let some of her charges speak. Cheerer Melissa Haynes, who had suffered a broken leg in a car accident the previous September, told the council how much the SCA had helped her want to get back into shape, and she had done so in time to go to Orlando. A parent talked about how much her child had changed for the better since becoming an SCA member. Another youngster recalled that her friends wanted to join the team, but had been turned down for lack of space.

After the presentation, Barrows, her daughter (and SCA coach) Anna, and the rest of the participants huddled together in a pew, hoping that they’d convinced at least a majority of four members to give an aye vote.

A few moments later, the vote came. The first was yes.

&uot;OK, that’s one!&uot; grunted a cheerer. Then came another thumbs-up.

More youngsters offered whispers of hope. The third time was a charm, as they were now 3-0 and one vote away from success.

Then it came. The fourth councilperson had been persuaded to go affirmative. The accomplishment was a success, and the idea was reality.

That’s when the dam broke. Some youngsters and parents started an impromptu cheer, while others, like Anna and Barrows, burst into tears. Meanwhile, the council continued voting, not stopping until all seven members had given their own personal OK.

&uot;We were all crying,&uot; said Anna, who hopes to give her own dancing instruction program in the studio. &uot;It was something that we’d wanted for years, every since we were working with Pop Warner. We had a really great program, and there was nowhere to put it. The Parks and Rec. department had been wonderful to us over the years, but now we have a place where girls can get one-on-one work if they need it, and stunting and tumbling. We have a place to get the quality we need to become All-Stars.

Perhaps Barrows shouldn’t have worried. &uot;I think she and her cheerleading group are great ambassadors for the city,&uot; said former Mayor E. Dana Dickens III. &uot;They travel different places and states performing, and it’s a great opportunity for kids to get involved in something that gives them exercise, and builds self-esteem, character, enthusiasm, all the things that you like to see in youth. They exhibit and teach all of these things. I think everyone on the council felt the same way.&uot;

&uot;I think she had a very good idea,&uot; said councilwoman Linda Johnson. &uot;I don’t think the building they’re using could have been used for better purposes; it’s good that she’s using the property for that purpose. I don’t think we took anything away from tax dollars.&uot;

The site is now a freshly-plowed dirt field; by August, it should be open for business. &uot;I want to have mats, a spring floor, everything,&uot; said Barrows, looking over Suffolk’s future Cheerleading Central. &uot;I’ve been sending out letters to construction companies, Lowe’s, HQ, everywhere asking for help. I’ve put a lot of money into this, but I don’t want to ask for loans, because then I’d have to charge the kids more, and I don’t want to do that. These are talented kids, and they deserve to have all the resources they can get. I want to help them make their dreams come true.&uot;

For more information about signing up to cheer for SCA, contact Barrows at 403-2231.