Team spirit

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The Final Destination competition in Baltimore will cost roughly $11,000 for each cheering squad.

LEWISTON – Last summer, when plotting the next eight or nine months in the road-running life of Maine Event Cheer & Training Center, owners Tammy and Mike Klemanski weighed the possibility that one of the program’s all-star teams might qualify for the Final Destination world championship in Baltimore.

Not a reserve the rooms and start selling $2 candy bars to pay our way possibility. More like a Wow, wouldn’t that be wild?’ possibility.

“We actually scheduled a trip to Springfield, Mass., the last weekend of April,” said Tammy Klemanski, a former high school cheerleader who guided two daughters through cheering’s evolution into a full-fledged, spectator sport. “We set the date and thought, well, if we somehow make it (to worlds) we can cancel it.”

Time to take the white-out to that desk calendar.

Maine Event qualified not one, not two, but five all-star teams for Final Destination, which will be held the weekend of May 6-7 and recorded for broadcast on Fox Sports Network.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Mike Klemanski, the gym’s marketing director and bookkeeper. “At least that’s the way we’re thinking now.”

Opportunity comes with a hefty price tag. The Klemanskis estimate that it will cost $11,000 per team to compete in Maryland, including two nights lodging, meals and a $75 entry fee per student.

To lighten the load on its equally dedicated parents, Maine Event is in a fund-raising fury. Its biggest benefit comes less than a week before the trip, with a Friends and Family exhibition night at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 30 at Lewiston High School.

“We normally don’t perform this close to home, so it’s a chance for grandparents, aunts and uncles and other people from the community to see the girls perform,” Tammy Klemanski said.

No shortcuts

The qualified teams, comprised of mostly girls, range in age from second grade to seniors in high school. They hone tumbling and stunting skills on the sixth floor of an old, riverside mill at 2 Cedar Street.

Many commute from far beyond the Twin Cities, making the round trip from South Paris, Monmouth, Winthrop, Brunswick, Augusta or Waterville for practice. Some cheerleaders show up five or six nights a week of their own volition, often juggling their all-star exploits with school-sanctioned cheering squads during winter.

“We had two girls this year who were cheering for their high school competition team, plus their school’s basketball or hockey team and two all-star teams here,” Tammy Klemanski said. “So they were juggling four teams, all with different routines.”

If that sounds excessive, it’s really no different than the demand on a basketball or softball player bouncing back and forth between her school’s in-season team, a summer program and an AAU travel outfit.

The Klemanskis say early-season gatherings tend to be low-key and loaded with team building activities. Most winter practices are held on Sunday to avoid conflicts with the school cheering season.

“They don’t need to be here (every day). That’s their choice,” Tammy said. “It’s the caliber of the kids.”

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Numbers don’t lie

Those kids aren’t the only ones burning the midnight oil to prepare for the world championship. When the gym doors are unlocked, the owners are usually in the store, after working eight hours at their full-time jobs.

Mike and Tammy Klemanski took over the gym three years ago when the previous owners decided to step away.

“We’re lucky if we break even,” said Mike. “The great part is hearing from a lot of parents what a difference it makes in their kids.”

Team spirit and individual confidence are foundations of the cheering culture, and it’s impossible for Maine Event not to brim with both when they consider the heady numbers they’ve accumulated since the 2003-04 season. Seven national titles this year bring the gym’s grand total to 11. They’ve won 38 first-place trophies at 18 competitions in six different states.

Those trips to Virginia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and now Maryland are time-consuming and financially draining, but as is the case for any other top-notch high school athletes isolated in Maine, the exposure is priceless.

“Our main goal is to get these kids seen by people who can show them the best way to end up with a college scholarship,” Mike Klemanski said.

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