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Dreaming Big: Local team cheers their way to All Star event

PHOTO SUBMITTED / The Mississippi Gym of Dreams Cheer Team is shown competing in Houston on their way to the championship at Disney World, Orlando. Performing are (top row from left) Sarah Harper Dunaway, Karley Smith, Maya Granger, Mary Anna Rushing, Savanah Dunaway, Mckena Henderson, Maley Moak, (bottom row from left) Brianna Dunaway, Mabry Glass, Audrey Montalvo, Lindsey Reid, Brittnee Blakeney, Trent Nettles, Carly Holden, Cody Smith, Hannah Moore, Matt Greer, Kailin Blanton, Kathryn Meilstrup, Breah Johnston, Peyton Herring, Alex Calhoun, Elleana Smith, Victoria Riad and Elise Whittington. Not pictured are Madeleine Meilstrup and Ashlea Bardwell.

PHOTO SUBMITTED / The Mississippi Gym of Dreams Cheer Team is shown competing in Houston on their way to the championship at Disney World, Orlando. Performing are (top row from left) Sarah Harper Dunaway, Karley Smith, Maya Granger, Mary Anna Rushing, Savanah Dunaway, Mckena Henderson, Maley Moak, (bottom row from left) Brianna Dunaway, Mabry Glass, Audrey Montalvo, Lindsey Reid, Brittnee Blakeney, Trent Nettles, Carly Holden, Cody Smith, Hannah Moore, Matt Greer, Kailin Blanton, Kathryn Meilstrup, Breah Johnston, Peyton Herring, Alex Calhoun, Elleana Smith, Victoria Riad and Elise Whittington. Not pictured are Madeleine Meilstrup and Ashlea Bardwell.

The cheer team at Mississippi Gym of Dreams in Brookhaven has reached for the stars and has been rewarded with an invitation to compete at Disney World in the All Star World’s Cheerleading Championship.

The team will be at competition April 26 through 28, said cheer coach Duane Meilstrup, owner of the Gym of Dreams. He said the championship competition held at Disney World each year is the pinnacle of cheerleading.

“It’s the Super Bowl of cheerleading competitions,” Meilstrup said. “Gyms all over the nation compete; the best level 5 and 6 go to the All-Star Championships.” Level 5 and 6 are typically high school and college level students.

“Our team is a co-ed team,” he said, “with ages 12 to 18. I have a total of 27 athletes on the team. We have a good crew that come from all around the area – West Lincoln, Park Lane, Brookhaven Academy, Brookhaven High School, Enterprise, North Pike, Wesson High School and Copiah-Lincoln Community College.”

Meilstrup has been working with cheer teams since he opened the gym in 1996.

“I’ve been training some of these kids since they were toddlers,” he said. He made it to national championships as a cheerleader at Mississippi College in the early 1990s, but, he said this is a new personal accomplishment.

“Even though I’ve been in three national championships,” he said, “I’ve never had a team as a coach to go to a national competition.” He coached at Jones Junior College for seven years before opening Gym of Dreams in 1996.

“It’s another dream of mine that I set as a coach and as a gym,” he said. “It’s a culmination of working with these kids since they were little, and for us to make this happen is really huge – this has been a dream of all of ours from the beginning.

“That Orlando competition,” he explained, “for some of these kids, is a lifetime achievement. It’s going to the pinnacle of their cheerleading experience. There was a lot of hugging and crying going on when we received the bid to go to nationals.”

Meilstrup said the nationals select seven squads to compete. He said that not only is he achieving something special for his own life, his team has helped show the rest of the nation what Mississippians can do.

“In the history of the competition,” Meilstrup said, “we are only the fourth gym from Mississippi to ever be selected. And, this year we are one of two Mississippi teams.”

Meilstrup said he takes his team to five or six competitions a year. The hope was to be asked to the All-Star Championships.

“We go to a lot of competitions all over the south,” he said. “Houston Nashville, Atlanta, at least five competitions per year – but we finally got a bid to go to Orlando. We did that in Houston in February.”

He said the majority of their routine is tumbling, stunts and some dancing. He is going to give the public a sampling of what they teach at the gym, and added that the gym is going to be busy over the next few weeks getting ready for Florida, including a little fundraising. They are having Family Night, Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m., in the Gym of Dreams, 327 Brookhaven St., Brookhaven.

“All of our teams will perform for the crowd,” he said. “We have all levels of cheer teams here at the gym, from little toddlers to college people. This is a fundraiser to help take our athletes to competition. So, we are asking for a $5 donation at the door.”

To learn more about Mississippi Gym of Dreams, visit www.gymofdreams.com, or call the gym at (601) 833-6451.

PHOTO SUBMITTED / The Mississippi Gym of Dreams Cheer Team won a spot at the All Star World's Cheerleading Championship held in Disney World in Orlando. Team members posing with their trophy and banner are, Kathryn Meilstrup (front, from left), Maley Moak, Savanna Dunaway, Karley Smith, McKena Henderson, Head Coach Duane Meilstrup; assistant coach/head choreographer Zachary Cain (back, from left), Maya Granger, Brianna Dunaway, Matt Greer, Lindsey Reid, Peyton Herring, Alex Calhoun, Trent Nettles, Mary Anna Rushing, Cody Smith, Sara Harper Dunaway, Elleana Smith, Assistant Coach Caleb Watts, Victoria Riad and assistant choreographer Katie Paulk.

PHOTO SUBMITTED / The Mississippi Gym of Dreams Cheer Team won a spot at the All Star World’s Cheerleading Championship held in Disney World in Orlando. Team members posing with their trophy and banner are, Kathryn Meilstrup (front, from left), Maley Moak, Savanna Dunaway, Karley Smith, McKena Henderson, Head Coach Duane Meilstrup; assistant coach/head choreographer Zachary Cain (back, from left), Maya Granger, Brianna Dunaway, Matt Greer, Lindsey Reid, Peyton Herring, Alex Calhoun, Trent Nettles, Mary Anna Rushing, Cody Smith, Sara Harper Dunaway, Elleana Smith, Assistant Coach Caleb Watts, Victoria Riad and assistant choreographer Katie Paulk.