When you think of cheerleading, you might not immediately picture pom-poms in central Brooklyn.
But two local cheerleading teams have been quietly making big moves in national competitive cheerleading, while setting some of Brooklyn’s young men and women on tracks for full scholarships to university.
Right now, in our neighborhood church halls, community centers and even homeless shelters, kids from Brooklyn Titans Cheer, Dance and Step and Brooklyn Dymondz are practicing their routines in the hopes of cleaning up at the American Youth Cheer Competition this Dec. 8 – 12.
The Florida competition — known as “the largest youth football and cheer tournament on Earth” — is a chance for the two competing teams (with one from East New York/Brownsville and the other from Crown Heights/Bed-Stuy) to show what Brooklyn is all about.
“There’s definitely a Brooklyn swag that we bring to Nationals,” Brooklyn Titans Cheer Dance and Step Co-director Chante Watson says.
“When we come with our music selection, our theme, our costumes, everything tells a story. I don’t know if you’ve heard a Brooklynite tell a story, but you get intrigued from the beginning.”
Brooklyn Dymondz Director Michelle Coleman said nothing their Brooklyn team does is cookie-cutter: they’re always bringing something “extra.”
“I would say sass tends to dominate,” she laughs. “The girls like to call it, ‘Turning it on.'”
Both the Titans and the Dymondz have won multiple divisions at the Nationals over the years with their Brooklyn swag and sass, often dominating in the areas of dance and step.
This is despite the fact that our Brooklyn teams face a lot of unique challenges that teams from other parts of the nation do not.
Challenges of cheering in the city
One the of the biggest challenges of being a cheer team in Central Brooklyn is finding space to practice, the teams say.
Unlike in other parts of the country where college football is a big part of the culture, and the accompanying cheer teams with it, Brooklyn doesn’t really have the venues to accommodate the sports.
While Brooklyn Diamondz are able to practice outside during the summer, in the winter months they have to scramble to find venues with high ceilings and mats to practice in.
While there are plenty of venues in New Jersey and on Long Island, getting there is an issue for many of the programs’ parents who use public transport.
“It’s not an ideal situation, this isn’t how it would work in another city or town,” Coleman said.
“But our girls and guys are able to look past the challenges: If they’re asked to bundle up on a chillier day, they understand that’s what we have to do to accomplish our goals.”
Why Brooklyn always wins at nationals
Despite the challenges, both teams only seem to be motivated by the fact that being a cheerleader from Brooklyn means doing things a little differently. And it seems to pay off.
Titan Co-director Watson spoke proudly of how Brooklyn Titans dancers have been going to Nationals since 2014, and have been bringing back national championships since 2015.
Two Titans athletes who competed as children in that first competition in 2014 have just made the nationals for the hyper-competitive under-18 cheer category, “a huge, huge accomplishment,” Watson said.
Meanwhile Coleman said the Dymondz always try to think outside the box for their routines. She recalls a dance performance the Dymondz took to nationals in 2017, where the kids played bikers from Sons of Anarchy, dancing to heavy metal.
“The crowd went wild,” she said. “To this day people still talk about that time a bunch of BIPOC children from Brooklyn were dancing to that Metallica track. It’s about being different.”
Coleman said when the team first started going to nationals, there were “only a handful” of BIPOC teams competing, where now about 40% of the teams are diverse.
Training athletes and businesspeople
Brooklyn Diamondz currently runs a program for 51 young people aged five through 18. It became and independent cheer program after parting with a now-disbanded football team in 2011.
Most of the Dymondz participants come from families in East New York and Brownsville, and one of its headquarters is NYCHA’s ‘Pink Houses’ housing project in East New York.
As many of the parents come from a lower income area of Brooklyn, even though Dymondz is one of the cheaper sports programs around, it is “sometimes out of the economic reach of some parents,” Coleman said.
That means, as well as learning tumbling and gymnastics, kids are also learning how to fundraise and source sponsorship. Right now, both the Brooklyn Dymondz and the Brooklyn Titans Cheer teams are both fundraising to get to Nationals.
“So if you see our girls standing on the corner in 20-degree Decembers, with ‘Phill-up the bucket,’ please go and talk to them,” Coleman said.
Meanwhile the Brooklyn Titans runs a program for about 25 five-to-18 year olds, mainly from Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush and Canarsie, “on the B46 line,” Watson said. Its program is attached to the Brooklyn Titans football team, but both the football and cheer divisions run as competitive sport teams.
While many still associate cheerleading with pom-poms and short skirts, cheerleading is a physically-challenging sport requiring extreme athleticism, and was recently admitted into the Olympics.
“Not only do we cheer for our football side of the house but, the fact we are a competitive cheer step team, the football team gets to cheer in reverse for us,” Watson said.
She said Brooklyn Titans is always hustling hard to get sponsorships and fundraise as well. Taking a team to a national event is not cheap, and they’re making sure everyone who wants to participate, can.
“We have a sizeable amount of participants who aren’t as privileged, some who are in the shelter system, and nobody gets left behind, everyone gets the opportunity to cheer.”
Major opportunities for Brooklyn kids
For those who don’t know much about cheerleading in Brooklyn, you may be missing an opportunity for your child.
Both the Titans and the Dymondz pointed out that cheerleading can get a child a full-ride to a good college, and now potentially a spot at the Olympic games.
Coleman said, right now, one of the Titans male cheerleaders is being considered for a full scholarship to university based on his cheer achievements.
Both teams stress that the opportunity is not just for young women. Parents with boys who aren’t into basketball or baseball should consider enrolling them in cheerleading, or as “yell leaders,” if they want to shoot for a lesser-known college scholarship opportunity.
“It’s really important for people in neighborhoods like Brooklyn to hear that, so many boys are missing out on the opportunity for a full ride to a really great school, if they’d only participated,” Watson said.
To help Brooklyn Titans Cheer, Dance and Step and Brooklyn Dymondz in their efforts to bring their Brooklyn athletes to a world stage this December, click through to each of their websites to donate, sponsor, or buy popcorn and other treats from the kids.