When Brian Cunningham lands an aerial trick at a school, the first thing he does is look over and see the reaction and the faces of the kids.
Cunningham, who has been doing educational BMX bike shows for school assemblies since 2010, said the more the kids look up to him and his team, the more the positive messages will sink in.
He started the Dialed Action Sports Team in 2009, and it evolved to school shows that promote ideals such as anti-bullying, drug awareness, bicycle safety and responsible choices.
“If they see us as role models, then hopefully that message will sink in more,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to go to school and have someone back-flip over their principal.”
Every year the Boalsburg-based business is getting bigger, starting with just 30 shows, and this year totaling 120 at schools in the spring and fall and fairs in the summer.
Cunningham and his team have done shows at schools in Lewistown and Huntingdon as well as a free show at the Boal Mansion, but they travel up and down the East Coast and sometimes as far west as Chicago.
Cunningham has been riding bikes for about 15 years and spent seven to eight of those in competitions. He suffered injuries such as torn knee ligaments, broken facial bones and other head injuries, and when he got engaged and the injuries finally caught up to him, Cunningham decided to look into a more stable business within the industry.
“I decided I should probably look into a more concrete career,” he said.
He added that injuries happen much less frequently in shows for kids because the tricks aren’t as difficult to pull off. He said in competitions they would immediately just try and pull out their best stuff for the judges, but the children aren’t as critical.
The idea to perform in schools came up when Cunningham saw teams doing similar shows and thought he had an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of some of these school children.
The shows last about 40 minutes and are followed by a question and answer session where the riders focus on a positive message chosen by the school.
The team takes out a $1 million audience insurance policy to ensure the safety of the spectators and can perform the shows indoors or outdoors. The team brings its own literature and is not associated with any local or national groups.
But for Cunningham, it all comes back to making an impact on the children.
“I just like hearing the reaction from the kids and seeing their faces,” he said.