Brian Elza, VP of sales and marketing for Athletic Championships, has seen Providence become a hot spot for cheerleading in the U.S. over the past five years. Since he began running the regional championship, held annually at the end of January, the number of competitors has risen from 3,500 to more than 5,000.
“It’s a marquee event,” he says. “The vast majority of all-star cheerleading and dance teams in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic compete there.”
Elza says that while it’s not as big as competitions in Southern California and Texas, Providence draws teams throughout the East Coast. The winners move on to the national championships in Orlando in May.
The bulk of competitors are 11- to 13-year-old girls, but the age ranges from three years old to older than 18. About 150 of the cheerleaders are males. There is also a special needs division as well.
Teams are comprised of 20, 28 or 36 members. Each team performs a 2.5-minute routine. While restrictions are placed on younger teams to help prevent injuries, the event can feel like a rock concert at times with its use of sound and lights.
Elza knows it can be a challenge working with preteen and teenage athletes, and says Providence has proven to be a more welcoming host than other cities.
“A lot of times when you go to a convention center, you start off with rude security guards,” Elza says. “The admission people aren’t friendly. There’s a bad vibe. That’s a huge issue for us when we’re talking about 3,000 customers who don’t want to come back and not because of anything my staff did.”
As the economy has bounced back, the number of competitors has grown. While parents will always put aside funds for their children’s athletic ventures, they appear more willing to travel than during the height of the recession, Elza says.
“Five years ago, a group from Washington, D.C., may not have made the trip due to expense,” he says. “Now they are willing to do that.”
The convention center’s tall ceilings, sightlines, accessibility for disabled athletes and its ability to accommodate crowds have made it a natural fit for Athletic Championships, as well as other cheerleading competitions that come to Providence.