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Diamonds are the ‘better gang’ now

Posted: April 11, 2014 8:07 a.m.
Updated: April 14, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Americans love their sports. We especially love baseball, basketball, football and hockey. We love the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Stanley Cup and World Series.

In small towns and big cities across the country, we love our college teams, our high school teams, our middle school teams and our recreation department youth teams.

We make much of our hometown teams, especially when they win championships. We enshrine their trophies, retire their jerseys, and seem to remember their names and exploits for generations.

There are other types of teams we laud as well: archery, lacrosse, soccer; debate, math, robotics.

Here in Kershaw County, we have one other team we should always keep an eye on, support and celebrate: the Kershaw County Diamonds.

If you missed our front page story Wednesday, the Diamonds is a step team. Stepping combines a lot of dance and athletic art forms and is very competitive on the local, state and national level.

Locally, the team that put stepping on Camden’s map was the Rho Chi Kobras. Four years ago, they received an invitation to a national tournament in Nashville and returned home with a second-place trophy.

Not bad for a team that had never competed at the national level. Not bad at all.

Very early last Thursday morning, the Diamonds followed in their elders’ ... well ... footsteps to head to the National Step Show Association championships in Chicago. While there, they got a tour of Northwestern University, met representatives of other mostly Midwestern colleges and competed against step teams from all across the country.

Knowing I would be on vacation this week, I wrote this column even before the Diamonds left. I have no idea whether they won first place or not, or if they placed at all. I have every confidence they did well.

No matter what, though, the Diamonds are already champions in my book and I haven’t even met them.

Why?

Because they are -- in the words of their mentor and sponsor, Brian Mayes -- the “better gang.”

My involvement in covering the local step scene started in 2009, about a year and a half after the death of Camden High School student Michael Smith. Michael died in Kershaw County’s only gang-related shooting death. In the weeks and months afterward, the community came together to try to figure out how to keep what happened to Michael from ever happening again.

Those meetings eventually resulted in Kershaw County being awarded a multi-million dollar Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The grant funded a lot of good programs that have helped in many ways.

Brian “Mr. B.B.” Mayes and his wife, Roberta, were doing that in other ways, too. One way was to form and coach a local step team and put on shows and competitions.

The goal: to show that young people can have fun while still focusing on their education and staying away from drugs, gangs and other potentially dangerous choices.

More than 90 percent of step team members have gone on to some form of secondary education or the military. Other students, assisted in other ways by the Mayses and their partners have done well, too. Veteran members of the Kobras still come back to Camden to help out the Diamonds. One member is helping cheerleaders with dance moves.

To put it simply, these are good kids. The Diamonds, like the Kobras before them, are what Mayes and I like to call a “better gang.” The phrase comes from a quote I took from Mayes. That, in order to keep young people from getting in trouble, “we had to be a better gang than the gangs.”

As Mayes pointed out in our story Wednesday, these kids -- and Roberta Mayes -- worked very, very hard to go to Chicago. They practiced and practiced, but they also gave up their weekends, 10 of them in a row, to hold bake sales and car washes to raise the $9,300 they needed to go.

They did it, raising every penny.

Part of that is because they received more than the $5 per car wash they charged. Some people gave $20 or even $100.

Why?

Because people believe in what the Mayeses and Kershaw County Diamonds are doing. Because people realize that they are worth helping. Because people know champions when they see them, regardless of how far they get in a local competition or a national championship.

I know without even having a report from Mayes that the Diamonds’ trip (which included 15 of their parents, by the way) was worth it. I get where he’s coming from when he said that such a trip would “open their minds and their eyes” to possibilities beyond Kershaw County and even South Carolina.

That’s not to say we don’t want them to go far away to college and never come back. I’m all for educating our students close to home and having them live, work and raise their own kids here someday.

But I think youth benefit from seeing big cities like Chicago in other parts of the country and the other little towns like Camden along the way. I think they benefit from meeting people -- fellow steppers, potential mentors -- from other places. I think they deserve to know they have choices whether those choices take them away from here or not.

So, congratulations to the Diamonds on their entry to nationals and for however they did while they were there.

You are champions, the “better gang,” and we applaud you.

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