Mary Slogosky’s business is built on her love of an activity.
And her work builds the skills and character of others inside her four walls and tall ceiling.
Sure, cheerleading to many may be a dozen girls shouting and moving in unison on the sidelines on a Friday night. Inside the walls of Cheer Central All Stars, however, cheerleading is more than that.
Slogosky led cheers on the sidelines some 20 years ago at Philipsburg-Osceola Area High School, dabbled in choreography at Penn State and began coaching at her high school alma mater after college. She took her “expensive hobby” to the local YMCA to help build the high school program.
The more kids that joined in her classes, the less space she had. The overcrowding took her to 289 Railroad St. 11 years ago, where she began Cheer Central and dropped her old job as a manager at the Days Inn in State College.
“I have that life where I turned my fun activity into my job,” she said.
Q: Why are you still in cheerleading?
A: It’s addicting. Cheerleading is definitely an addiction. It’s positive, it’s fun, it’s athletic, it’s challenging and it’s such a high energy thing that’s so fun to be around. It’s one of those activities where you can have an exceptional amount of skill or a beginner skill and still feel 100 percent a part of the team. I had expectations growing up that I was going to run a resident camp for kids in the summer, and I wanted to do that for a living. I did the exact opposite. I now have kids all school-year long, and I break for the summer.
Q: It was always the plan to have a business, but cheerleading wasn’t really a part of your vision?
A: Cheerleading didn’t exist then like it does now. Cheer Central is proud to be one of the first All-Stars that was in Pennsylvania. All-Star cheerleading didn’t exist when I started coaching. It became a thing while I was coaching, and then we were part of the outbreak.
Q: Why’d you feel this business could be popular in a smaller town?
A: It happened organically. I started coaching outside of school, because we wanted to improve our program at Philipsburg-Osceola High School. It turned into its own entity, and now it’s very much separate. There are kids that just do school cheerleading or just do All-Stars and some that do both. The best part about it is it’s all intermixed, and the kids can choose what they want or do both if they can swing it.
Q: So do you only get people from Philipsburg-Osceola?
A: Oh no, we get people from all over. I’ve had years where 12 different school districts are represented here. I haven’t done those numbers for this year yet, but 12 is a lot. It’s exciting to have that many kids from that many areas come to our small town in the middle of nowhere, so that they can develop their cheerleading skills.
Q: Was it tough at times figuring out how to run a cheerleading business? It’s seems like it would be unlike most other businesses.
A: I didn’t always do this for a living, but I learned a lot before it. I had a lot of bosses that have taught me quite a lot. I also managed at health clubs and did summer programs at the athletic club when it existed in State College when I was in college. I was always learning how to run a program. My mother was my mentor, and she was the aquatic director at the YMCA in Clearfield. I was raised in a YMCA with programming, so I kind of got home-fed on how to run a business.
Q: What are the challenges from a business perspective and as a coach?
A: Getting to know every kid is my main priority, to know their goals and helping them reach those goals. That’s the coaching aspect. On the same note, making sure we keep track of each kid, making sure their counts are up to date, all their equipment is in order, making sure their uniforms are on the way and making sure every kid is ready to cheer when it comes to that time.
Q: There are certain degrees of danger with everything an athlete does. How do you handle that with cheerleaders where it’s choreographed but plenty of risk is involved?
A: It starts with my training, and I train a lot. I went to three conferences every summer. I went to summer camp with my high school team, too. All of it includes training and teaching myself first. The athletes I bring into this gym are exposed to intensive training. Most of our warm-up, which is a half hour, includes exercises that are preventive. We are conditioning our athletes to make sure their joints are ready, their bodies are ready. There are accidents that happen, but we do everything we can to prevent it. We also have perfection before progression in our stunting and tricks. Everyone has to perfect one level before they move on to the next.
Q: Are there competitions?
A: Yes, there are local, regional and national competitions we go to depending on how old they are. Our teams are age 3 to 33 now. The younger ones go to maybe three local ones. My senior team, the high school age team, went to Florida last year. Some of these kids are going to very large, national competitions at that level.
Q: So, in that right, is cheerleading a sport?
A: These are athletes, and I coached cheerleading long before we had a good argument. This is what I tell my kids: It doesn’t matter what other people want to label us; we are what we are. Sometimes I say that we’re absolutely not a sport, because we are so much more. We are also performers. There is no other sport I know of that has to put a smile on our face. We have to make it look effortless, and we have two and a half minutes to show off everything we can do.
Q: Mind you, there is no sport where you must trust a handful of other people to throw you in the air and then catch you. What possesses anyone to do that?
A: The thrill. It is a thrill. It takes a lot of trust and training to have those skills. It teaches kids a lot of responsibility, especially if you’re on the ground and have to make the catch. Personal responsibility to your team and to each other is a huge life skill that they take off into the world. It makes them stronger.
Q: You making a living by teaching, coaching and mentoring kids, but what have you learned from them?
A: They teach me daily, and they’ve probably taught me more than I could learn in a classroom about teaching, about people, about how every single person that walks through my door is important. I’ve learned I have to get to know each kid, because each kid has their own formula to success. They’ve taught me that each one of them has a family that loves them and sees them as their stars. It’s my responsibility to bring each one to their best ability and help them grow.