When Stephanie Howell began shopping for a new location for her cheerleading business in Fresno, she never expected a location so perfect to fall into her lap. But it did.
The old Laser Quest building in a shopping center at Herndon and Blackstone avenues was vacant, and other laser tag and trampoline businesses weren’t interested.
But with its open space and high ceilings, the building was exactly what Howell needed for her CheerForce cheerleading school.
“I just thought the location was perfect – we have a sign right on Blackstone, right here on Herndon – you can’t get a better location for what we’re doing,” Howell said. “I felt like God just like orchestrated all of this, and it was meant to be.”
Never miss a local story.
CheerForce had its grand reopening in the new building Jan. 2, just in time for the new year, and Howell said business has been strong, with many new faces curious and interested in the business.
CheerForce offers private lessons, monthly tumbling, stunting and flexibility classes, as well as maintaining two all-star cheerleading teams, an all-star prep team for beginners and full-year teams for all ages that compete at national competitions throughout the year.
“There’s huge competitions all over the country that we go to,” Howell said. “We have a team getting ready to go to Dallas in February; we’re going to San Jose in a couple weeks and Palm Springs the weekend after that.”
Thirteen-year-old Sam Huira, who attends Alta Sierra Intermediate School in Clovis, has been cheering since she was in kindergarten. She joined CheerForce in 2015. Sam practices nearly every day, twice on Sundays, and is on two teams with CheerForce.
Sam says she loves the sport.
“I like cheerleading because I love being able to compete with my friends,” Sam said. “I love how friendly everyone is, and I felt so welcome when I joined.”
She said she also enjoys mastering new skills.
“When you first learn a new skill, you think you’re never going to get it, and then you keep practicing and practicing till you get it,” Sam said. “It makes me feel like I can do a lot more; it pushes me to want to learn even more.”
Although a cheerleader herself in middle school, Howell didn’t start coaching cheer until one of her friends asked her to help at Yosemite High School a few years ago.
“I love kids so much, so that was a big thing for me, being able to work with kids,” Howell said. “I love giving back and teaching kids to give back, but now it’s on such a bigger scale.”
It’s kind of a family draw. It’s a good fit for them, good fit for the shopping center, excited about the parents who come with the kids, the options they have now, whether shopping or eating at restaurants.
Steve Rontell, the commercial broker on the new CheerForce location
That bigger scale came from Howell’s decision to work with CheerForce, a cheerleading franchise based out of Southern California. She had wanted to open up a location in Coarsegold, where she lives, but the timing and space never seemed right.
So when a location opened up in Fresno in 2014, Howell jumped at the opportunity, starting the first CheerForce north of Bakersfield and the only one in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Their first location was on Shaw and Brawley avenues, a warehouse space with plenty of room and high ceilings perfect for stunting and tumbling. Howell’s business took off, growing from 40 athletes to 200 today.
As her business started to expand, attracting young adults from across the Valley in towns such as Los Banos, Visalia, Mendota, as well as Clovis and Fresno, Howell saw an opportunity to better meet her athletes’ needs. Her lease on the old building was up in December, and after searching for a few months for a new location, Howell found her spot. Although it was technically a smaller space than the previous warehouse, the building was in a more central location in Fresno, perfect for athletes and their families, Howell said.
Steve Rontell, the commercial broker for the 9,517 square-foot building, said he had tried to interest other Laser Quest companies, then moved on to trampoline parks, but he said the space wasn’t quite big enough to meet their needs. CheerForce, he said, fit perfectly.
“It’s kind of a family draw,” Rontell said. “It’s a good fit for them, good fit for the shopping center, excited about the parents who come with the kids, the options they have now, whether shopping or eating at restaurants.”
Rontell’s seen a rise in athletic and recreational types of uses for warehouses and larger spaces such as these in Fresno. Empty warehouses that might have been vacant before work well with their high ceilings for sports and recreational companies, he says.
Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed Assembly Bill 949, which set in motion an effort to recognize cheerleading as an interscholastic sport. That change has helped spur interest in these types of recreational-use buildings, Rontell said.
Howell said she’s been blessed for the opportunities provided to her working with the owners of other CheerForce locations, who came to Fresno and celebrated with the staff on their move to the new location. More important, Howell said, she and her athletes, instructors and employees have become like family, and it’s been satisfying helping them accomplish their goals.
“I see so many kids come in with low self-esteem, and within a couple of months they are able to do things that they weren’t able to do, things that their friends aren’t able to do, and I think that really helps give them confidence,” Howell said. “I feel like this is where I am supposed to be.”
Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614
For more information
CheerForce offers a variety of cheerleading, tumbling and other classes. Costs vary, depending on the frequency and type of class, but a once-a-week class runs about $55-$65 a month.
- Location: 48 E. Herndon Ave., Fresno
- Website: www.cheerforce.com/fresno