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Camden steppers do it again

Rho Chi Kobras take 'excellent' at Disney, first place at Benedict

Posted: October 12, 2010 4:42 p.m.
Updated: October 13, 2010 5:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Shakeem “Kaptain” Coleman (front row, second from left) of the Rho Chi Kobra step team holds the 2010 Disney Step Classic “Excellent” Award the team earned Labor Day weekend. It was presented Friday by Camden Mayor pro Tem Walter Long (front row, left) and shared with other members of the team (from left) Imani “Siren” Simon, Deneshia “Kare Bear” Reid, Shynell “Professor” Wells and Precious “Venom” Williams. Joining in the celebration at Camden High School were (back row, from left) ALPHA Center Director Paul Napper, Camden City Councilman Ned Towell, Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Safe Schools/Healthy Schools Project Director Kevin Rhodes and KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan.

Shakeem Coleman, Imani Simon, Deneshia Reid, Precious Williams and Shynell Wells were all called to Camden High School (CHS) Principal Dan Matthews’ office Friday afternoon. They didn’t know why and more than one was, perhaps, a little hesitant about getting there promptly.

But when they saw Pastor Brian Mays of Trinity Apartment’s Family Outreach Ministries, they relaxed. Something good was going to happen.

Known, respectively, by their team names -- Kaptain, Siren, Kare Bear, Venom and Professor -- the students are the core members of the Rho Chi Kobras, Camden’s nationally ranked step team.

Labor Day weekend, the core team traveled to Walt Disney World to compete in the 2010 Disney Step Classic. Stepping against both high school and college-age steppers, Rho Chi earned an “excellent” award in the under 19 division, the weekend’s top honor.

Friday, the Kobras were officially presented their Mickey Mouse-topped trophy by Camden Mayor pro Tem Walter Long.

“We’re so proud of you,” Long said.

During the short ceremony in CHS’ lobby, Long, Matthews, Councilman Ned Towell, ALPHA Center Director Paul Napper, Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan and KCSD Safe Schools/Healthy Schools Project Director Kevin Rhodes learned September had been a very good month for the Kobras.

The team had also been invited to Benedict College to participate in a competition focused around the Sept. 18 Historic Black Colleges and Universities Classic football game. They were originally told it was a competition featuring high school and college step teams.

“When we got there, though, we found it was all college teams. They were the only high school team,” said Brian Mays, whose Family Outreach Ministries sponsors the team. “We agreed to compete anyway and those college kids stood up and cheered and made them feel welcome.”

At competition’s end, the judges called out the names of two Benedict College teams for third and second place.

“The fans started cheering ‘Rho Chi, Rho Chi,’ because they knew there weren’t any other teams that came close. They won first place and the college kids brought them center stage and danced and celebrated with them,” said Mays.

By winning, the Kobras earned their first-ever cash prize: $300, which Mays said is being used to purchase jackets for the team’s winter shows.

Practicing for both competitions was just part of a very busy summer for both the Rho Chi Kobras and their younger counterparts, the L’il Diamonds.

“They helped with Habitat for Humanity,” Mays said. “One of the student’s parents was getting the house so we all pitched in.”

Later, they were off to Myrtle Beach for some down time and then they started practicing for Disney. Mays said the Disney competition was similar and yet very different from the team’s spring experience in Nashville where they earned second place in the national Music City Step Fest.

“It’s not like nationals, but it’s larger, with 40 teams split between 19 and over and under 19, and they can earn ‘average,’ ‘good’ and ‘excellent,’” explained Mays.

By splitting teams by ages, the Kobras ended up competing against both high school and college students Labor Day weekend.

Other things about the weekend were just as important as earning the “excellent” award.

“The cool thing was we really wanted to go to Disney on our own. We didn’t bother our regular donors. We held fundraisers, car washes -- there’s only so much you can do,” Mays said.

But they made it, and without having to deal with the disappointment of having their money stolen. When the Kobras went to Nashville in March, they had lined up a bus with a Columbia company. The driver stood them up, taking $1,500 with him. The man was later arrested and charged.

“They’ve overcome so much,” Mays said of the Kobras. “No one stole from us this time, but the bus we were going to use had just come out of the shop so we got parents to help with four cars.”

Disney World is a great memory for almost any kid and the Kobras were no exception. In addition to being named “excellent,” they got the chance to show off for hundreds of fellow Disney visitors.

“We ended up in Uptown Disney and there was a little teen band at an outdoor concert. The kids stopped and then started dancing with the band and it turned into a four-hour routine,” said Mays.

With September gone, the Kobras and Diamonds are practicing for a show right here in Camden. At 6 p.m. Nov. 6, the doors to Rhame City Arena at the corner of Broad and Bull streets will open. Several teams will compete against each other, including 2008 Camden Cup winners Southern Dynasty, the Alphas of Benedict College and other middle school, high school and college step teams.

But not the Kobras or Diamonds. Mays said hometown crowd advantages are so great that the two teams will graciously let others compete. That doesn’t mean they won’t be showing off their moves.

“They’ll be showcasing themselves,” said Mays. “We’re upgrading the show, like with lights and other things. We’ve been accomplishing a lot with a little funding from our main sponsors, the ALPHA Center, Ned Towell and the city of Camden.”

General admission will be $5 at the door; $10 for floor seats. And, something truly different for this year, companies and organizations that want to be pampered can get a table for eight and a meal for $150.

“The crowd will help in funding us to go to nationals next year,” Mays said.

Family Outreach Ministries is a 501(c)(3) organization; contributions are tax deductible.

Mays has spent most of the summer at Rhame City Arena, not only helping to oversee step practices, but playing basketball with a group of boys.

“I’ve already been spending 25 hours a week with teenage boys,” he said. “We’ve had an average of eight to 10, but have had up to 20. Thanks to James Davis from the Rec Department. I don’t know what those boys would have been doing if we didn’t have that to do.”

Mays is hoping to form an eight-week “Midnight Madness” youth basketball league next summer that would play from 7 p.m. on at Rhame. Mays has also been volunteering his time mentoring at the Continuous Learning Center.

“We’re trying to keep kids off the street. It’s totally about the children for us,” said Mays.

Some of those children have grown up helping out with the Rho Chi Kobras and L’il Diamonds. But they can’t stick around forever. Mays said two have gone off to college.

“We’re happy for them, but we’re going to miss them,” he said.

In the meantime, Shakeem “Kaptain” Coleman, one of only two seniors on the Kobras, has turned into a big help … and success story.

“He works at Wendy’s, he’s the captain of the Kobras and he’s been coaching the L’il Diamonds,” Mays said. “He’s a jewel, but he’s a senior, so I’m going to lose him.”

Or maybe not. Mays said there’s a good chance Kaptain will choose a local college so he can continue helping out both his team and his family.

“The rest of the team are sophomores on down, including seventh-graders,” said Mays.

In addition to the core members, another seven members have been added to the team, bringing the Kobras up to an even dozen. The average age, now, is ninth grade.

“When I think about where we started, with 600 people showing up at Phelps Auditorium, to where we are now … I want people to realize these kids are fighting, that they’re a great group of kids,” said Mays.

For more information about the Nov. 6 step show, call 420-2526.


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