Cheer family blossoms with RADDSports

Cheerleaders perform at RADD Cheer's spring showcase.
Cheerleaders perform at RADD Cheer's spring showcase.
Photo by Glory Reitz

RADDSports Cheer teams don’t drift away after they finish their performances. They stay and support their fellow RADD cheerleaders with shouts and claps. They say the cheer program is not just a sport, it is family. 

At a recent RADDSports Cheer showcase, the gym space echoed with shouts and cheers from girls in cheerleading uniforms—most of them calling their loudest when they were off the mat, rooting for other girls. 

Debbye Landers, cheer director, said the program is not just about cheer, it is about teaching students manners, respect and how to interact with others. She said she feels like RADD leadership is “contributing to making them better humans.” 

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There are currently 67 students in RADDSports Cheer’s competitive program, plus 19 more in the non-competitive 10-week class, developing their early cheer skills. 

RADDSports cheerleaders say the sport is all about teamwork.
Photo by Glory Reitz RADDSports cheerleaders say the sport is all about teamwork.

All five RADD elite teams advanced to Summit. Our Youth 1 Elite is attending The Youth Summit completion this weekend. The other four will compete May 10-12 at the D2 Summit.

The RADD prep teams have a separate event to attend, the U.S. Finals, for which the Junior 1 prep team won a golden ticket. Both the Junior 1 Prep team and the Junior 3 Elite team won at that competition in early April. 

Landers said when people ask her what she plans to do for Mother’s Day, she tells them she is “spending it with my 43 children.” 

The program was originally Florida Team Cheer Gators, which Landers led for 14 years before the Alachua County Sports & Events Center was built and RADDSports reached out about merging. 

Landers and several students said the program has not changed much since the merge, except that they now practice in the new Sports & Events Center. The core of how Landers runs the program has remained. 

“I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls, a better group of parents,” Landers said. “It’s home, is what it is. And that’s why I’ve stuck around so long, because I feel like this is home.” 

Maris Callaway, a fourth grader in her second year of cheerleading, said her favorite part of doing a routine is the feeling immediately after. 

“Knowing that you did this with your team… to have that connection,” Callaway said. “It’s like it’s just a family.” 

Callaway said it is important for the cheerleaders to remember that they are one on a team and must work together to succeed. 

Other cheerleaders agreed, but Ja’nyla Green, a senior in high school who has cheered with Landers’ program for nine years, said that unity is also one of the most difficult parts of cheer. 

“You have to encourage,” Green said. “Just, be motivating to everybody, to do their best… Everybody do their part.” 

The family feeling extends to the cheer moms in the program as well, several of whom expressed gratitude for the culture of Landers’ program. 

Colleen Ayres said her oldest daughter cheered with Landers from age 3-6, and her younger daughter had long begged to join cheer. When she returned with her younger daughter, Ayres said she was welcomed back with open arms. 

Cheerleaders yell and hit the mat to cheer on their comrades.
Photo by Glory Reitz Cheerleaders yell and hit the mat to cheer on their comrades.

She said Lander’s program is a “safe space” for her daughter, but also well-organized. 

“There is a professionalism about it,” Ayres said. “Which is nice, because a lot of programs are kind of just really relaxed and not very organized… you know exactly what you’re getting into and what everything is included up front. It’s not a guessing game.” 

Other cheer moms also praised Landers for her transparent fees and fundraising opportunities for those who can’t afford all the cheerleading trappings and competitions. 

Sarah Wilkerson’s daughter is in her third year of cheer, and Wilkerson spoke positively about the transition from the “old gym” to the Sports & Events Center. Not only is this place closer, Wilkerson also appreciates the new equipment and flooring the cheerleaders have access to. 

Debbye Landers
Photo by Glory Reitz Debbye Landers

Wilkerson also noted that though the coaches and facilities are good, the students also step up to improve their teams. 

“The girls work really hard to start at nothing, and move up to being really good,” Wilkerson said. 

Richard Blalock, CEO and founder of RADDSports, is a former “cheer dad” of Landers’ program, his daughter started at the age of 11. 

Blalock said RADD has a mission to change the culture of how young athletes are trained. He said that is the purpose behind RADD’s combination of sports sharing one roof and one name. 

Instead of thrusting children into specialty areas at a young age, Blalock said RADD allows them to swap coaches sometimes, practicing other sports just for the enjoyment. 

“Just having fun,” Blalock said. “That’s what we’re missing in youth sports. 

RADD’s core sports are cheer, basketball, volleyball and pickleball, but the Sports & Events Center often hosts other types of events, like archery or gymnastics. 

RADDSports Cheer tryouts run May 13-30, with dates varying based on student ages. 

Editor’s note: Corrections were made about the Summit competition and the U.S. Finals competition.

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