Nothing to ‘cheer’ about

By Melanie Ruberti mruberti@civitasmedia.com

April 19, 2014

Tears, not smiles, greeted parents on Thursday afternoon, as their children got their first glimpse of what used to be the Cheer Alliance gym.

“I was shocked,” said 10-year-old Leah Murphy. “It was weird. Nothing was there.”

“Me and Leah usually go to the trampoline, but it was gone,” said nine year old Avery Hudson. “It was sad because it felt like Cheer Alliance wasn’t going to be with us anymore.”

The cheerleaders practice in a sectioned off area inside the Troup County Recreational Center off Lafayette Parkway. Not only were some of the trampolines missing, but so was the “Air Track” and “wedges”, equipment the girls use to practice their tumbling and gymnastic skills. Not to mention most of the floor had been ripped up and was stacked in a corner.

According to the Cheer Alliance website, the group is a competitive cheerleading organization that teaches it’s members about the sport, plus the value of dedication, integrity, leadership, confidence, a positive attitude, and commitment. The owners, John and Kellie Varga, operate two gyms: one in Lake Charles, Illinois, the other, in LaGrange at the Rec Center.

Avery’s mom, Sara Ann Hudson, said the Varga’s are not following through on their commitment to them. She was extremely upset when she learned John Varga, came down without notice Wednesday night and began dismantling the equipment in their gym and hauling it away.

“I’m furious,” she said. “I hate it for the coaches and the athletes. They’ve worked so hard. It seems like it was taken away. We’ve put so much into the gym. It’s something that’s apart of our lives. It’s sad they’ve done this to all of our athletes and basically threw them out on the streets.”

But according to Cheer Alliance co-owner, Kellie Varga, the information concerning the move was presented to parents and their children back in March, and again last Sunday at a year-end banquet. In a statement emailed to the LaGrange Daily News, Varga said, “That equipment and flooring is being disassembled due to our lease being up at the end of April, and that the cheer program is moving to a new location….. The current lease at the Rec center went out to bid, and a 20 percent increase in rent was not feasible. A LaGrange family is in the process of purchasing some of the equipment and moving it to a more affordable location to better serve Troup County. Over the next 10 days, our staff will be breaking down the equipment that will not fit into the new and small location with the new owners.”

Hudson and another parent who did not want to be named, said they were only told of an upcoming “transition” on Sunday not told about them dismantling the equipment before the season ended. Only when she inquired about it Thursday morning, did Kellie send her an email and then a letter to all the parents. That letter was sent early Thursday afternoon.

“Just let us finish out the season at the gym with the stuff we paid for,” she said. “It’s not even about the money anymore, it’s about the principal. Let us finish the season on a high note. They say they care about our athletes, but it seems like they’re punishing them by taking away everything they worked so hard for, for them (Cheer Alliance).”

Hudson estimates she and her husband spend close to $4,000 for their daughter Avery to cheer for Cheer Alliance. That doesn’t include the cost of a new uniform. But it does include a monthly fee that pays for the girl’s coach and for the team to participate in five competitions through out the season. This year, the girls only competed in four.

As the LaGrange Daily News reported in January, dozens of competitive cheerleading squads, including Cheer Alliance, were left stranded in Atlanta after one of their competitions was suddenly canceled. The event organizing group, Cheer-Nation, also from LaGrange, booked the competition in a bad venue, took the cheerleader’s money, and left. Cheer-Nation owner, Halee Yates, apologized to parents, but Hudson said, she has yet to be reimbursed for that trip.

“Give us a reimbursement, or an option to make up for it,” she said.

According to Cheer Alliance, the competition debacle in Atlanta has nothing to do with them.

“We were one of the hundreds of participants that attended the Cheer Nation competition, only to find that the event producer was not prepared to put on a competition,” Varga said in a statement. “We are in the process of filing a complaint along side other gym owners. However, we were made aware of, I think from those exact families….that the Cheer-Nation owner was arrested yesterday {Wednesday}.”

According to the Troup County Sheriffs Department, Yates was arrested, but on traffic related charges. It had nothing to do with the canceled Cheer-Nation competition in January.

Hudson is also curious about Cheer Alliance’s finances. She is a member of the Cheer Alliance Parents Association (CAPA) and is also the Treasurer for the group. Despite her title, Hudson said she never knew how the team’s money was being used, nor was she ever given any bank statements, despite repeatedly asking for them. She said included in the monthly competition fee, was money for the girls to perform at an Atlanta Hawks basketball game. Hudson said that trip was canceled as well.

Varga said, “It was suggested by the parents to plan an “Alliance Day” at the gym in lieu of the Hawks game. The revised schedule was emailed out to the parents so they could make note of the new day. The staff brought in a world title champion to come and work with our athletes, set up a clinic. There was food and fun and a big savings for the families, of which they asked for. The Hawks game would require the families to purchase their own entry tickets, pay for parking, and travel expense. The Alliance Day was planned instead, saved the families money and the kids had a great time.”

Both Hudson and another parent said that suggestion did not come from the parents, nor were they told that event was to replace the Hawks performance.

Hudson believes part of the problem is that John and Kellie Varga live in Illinois, and run the gym through two coordinators at the Troup County Rec Center. She’s only seen the Varga’s twice this year, both times at competitions where the couple’s other gym was also performing. Hudson said the first year of Cheer Alliance in LaGrange, the Varga’s were in town once every two or three months, came to three or four competitions, and tryouts. She said the only way to get a hold of them was through the coordinators, and usually the correspondence was through Kellie by email.

“I’m upset with the way she handled it, personally and professionally,” said Hudson. “I think that if they had a lot more involvement during the year, we wouldn’t have the situation we have now. We’d have better communication and things would have gone more smoothly.”

Varga said the teams will be able to practice until the end of the season. Hudson said John Varga told some of the parents he decided to leave the flooring, “Air Track”, and some other items through April 30th.

“Hearing that they’re going to leave a few more things is encouraging,” said Hudson. “The girls are making the most of what’s there.”

Avery and Leah both said they still want to cheer, and are looking into other gyms in the area. But they’re going to miss Cheer Alliance too.

“I’m sad because I made some really good friends,” Leah said.

“I’m going to miss my Coach,” said Avery.

Kellie Varga said there is going to be a new cheer program in Troup County that will be owned and operated by a LaGrange family. No word yet on where and when that gym will be up and running.