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New cheer program on horizon for Grand Forks

Coach Jasmine Lewis leads young gymnasts in stretching exercises during a recent practice. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Parents of children in a competitive cheer program that was canceled at Red River Valley Gymnastics, now Red River Valley Athletics, are planning to start a new cheer program to train the team in a facility in south Grand Forks.

Amanda and Philip Brandt have signed a five-year lease agreement to start "Cheer Tech" in a nearly 4,000-square-foot space at Copper Point, an 11,880-square-foot building to be located between TJ Maxx and Hobby Lobby, on 32nd Avenue South.

The Brandts will aim, at least initially, to enroll kids who are 5 to 8 years old, said Amanda Brandt. She and her husband, both retired from Grand Forks Air Force Base, are faculty members at the UND School of Aerospace Sciences.

They hope to open the facility in August, with classes beginning after Labor Day.

Philip Brandt, who runs the nonprofit "UAS Kids" program at UND, was looking for a place to expand that program. He and his wife decided that Cheer Tech could blend technology with the competitive cheer training experience.

"We'll utilize our technology with their physical training to maximize their athletic skills," said Amanda Brandt. "The kids will be able to see themselves on a huge screen doing, for example, a cartwheel. It's much easier to see what you're doing wrong on a video."

Parents will also be able to watch videos and see the progress their children are making on the cheer teams, she said.

The facility will allow drone camps and related experiences to be scheduled year-round.

"Parents can come to those camps and fly drones with their children before they invest in a drone," she said.

Amanda Brandt, chief UAS, or unmanned aircraft systems, pilot at UND, said fundraising efforts, including grant-writing, have started in support of Cheer Tech.

Parents are pleased at the prospect of a new location for their kids' cheer team.

"I'm super excited for the younger kids," said Elizabeth Clough, whose 8-year-old daughter was involved in the competitive cheer program at RRVG for a couple of years.

"I'm resigned to the fact that RRVG will not restart cheer—at least, not in a time frame that would work for my daughter," Clough said.

So in the meantime, her daughter is taking recreational trampoline and tumble class at a cheer gym facility, North Dakota Elite, in Fargo.

Several parents of children in the 8- to 10-year-old age range are carpooling a couple of times a week to take 16 kids to the Fargo gym, Clough said.

At the end of this month, that gym will offer placement sessions to determine the skill level of each child and which team each is eligible to join, Clough said.

"Kids who are turning 9 and above, they can handle the commute. They're back home by 8 or 9 p.m.," Brandt said. "If they're 5 to 7 years old, the commute is tougher."

Also, younger kids may not be sure about committing to the sport.

For Brandt and other carpooling parents, "it's a labor of love," she said. "There's zero benefit for our kids, because they're older."

She's hoping that, eventually, Cheer Tech will be able to accommodate the older kids too.

New development

The Copper Point development is a three-building project east of Hobby Lobby, said Mike Marcotte, commercial realtor, broker and developer at Century 21 Red River Realty.

Space in the first building—restrooms, a changing room and office area—has been customized for Cheer Tech, Marcotte said.

Taking on this project is risky, Brandt said, but she is encouraged by those who have already volunteered labor to make it a reality.

"So many people are willing to put up their talents."

Launching Cheer Tech was necessary to keep a cheer program in town.

"My husband and I are not doing this because we expect to get rich," said Brandt. "We would have been happy to continue a successful team at Red River Valley Gymnastics. We're hoping to just break even."

After the Brandts' military careers, developing Cheer Tech is "more about giving back" to the community, she said.

"We know what it means to boys and girls who are in cheer, especially since competitive cheer will be introduced to the Summer Olympics. That will generate a lot of excitement. Kids are going to say, 'How do I get involved in that sport?' " "We believe in Grand Forks. We don't think people have to travel to (participate in) a world-class program," she said. "I think it's going to work out."