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A step of ‘Distinction’

Battle for the Cup crowns new winner after close contest

Posted: November 9, 2017 3:57 p.m.
Updated: November 10, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Members of the Brothers and Sisters of Distinction step team from Columbia jump in unison during their interpretation of “The Color Purple.” The performance earned the team the 2017 Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford Cup, beating out defending champions The Royal Diamonds, also from Columbia, by only two points. The Battle for the Cup step show took place Nov. 4 in the Camden High School gymnasium.

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By a mere two-point advantage for a perfect score of 180, the Brothers and Sisters of Distinction (BSD) step team from Columbia became the new holder of the recently rechristened 2017 Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford Cup on Nov. 4.

BSD wrested the Mayor’s cup from long-time defending champion The Royal Diamonds, also of Columbia, during the Battle for the Cup event inside the Camden High School (CHS) gym. BSD Coach Debra Young said the team is relatively young, having only been around since 2011.

“It’s a community group, made up of students from Columbia, Hopkins, Blythewood -- all over,” Young said before competition began.

BSD performed second-to-last, with The Royal Diamonds stepping last as the defending champion. In both cases, audience members from all over the Midlands, including Camden, cheered them on. It was fairly evident, however, that BSD ended up the crowd favorite, garnering a standing ovation for their interpretation of The Color Purple.

The performance included lip-synched acting and singing from scenes of a Broadway musical produced in part by Oprah Winfrey who had a role in the Oscar-winning movie. Both the musical and movie are interpretations, themselves, of the 1982 Alice Walker novel of the same name.

The Royal Diamonds came close to a perfect score itself, only missing a tie by two points with their take on a visit to a salon by a woman who really needed her last hairdo fixed.

The Nov. 4 event marked the step show’s 10th anniversary in Camden. As such, members of the original Rho Chi Kobraz, which won second place at the 2011 national step show competition in Nashville, Tenn., returned to Camden. Later that year, the team went on to receive “Excellent” ratings -- the highest attainable -- at the Disney Step Classic in Orlando, Fla. Former members of the Kershaw County Diamonds, many of whom started as the Lil’ Diamonds when the Rho Chi Kobraz were leading the way, returned as well.

One of those former members, and a CHS graduate himself, Jalen Loney, returned to entertain the crowd with a solo performance that likely had a few members of the audience fanning their faces. It was all in good fun, though, especially as he sauntered his way up to the judge’s table, leaned over and shared a huge smile with judge Makalia Allen, former captain of the Kershaw County Diamonds and a sophomore at the University of South Carolina.

In addition, Iria Monet, a 15-year-old with her own clothing line, performed a praise dance. Jackson Teen Center (JTC) Executive Director Brian Mayes, who has organized all 10 years worth of step shows, presented the 2017 Community Service Award from Outreach Life Ministries to Isis Frasier for getting more than 80 percent of her middle school class onto their respective A/B honor rolls. Former Malaaco Records recording artist Justin Rufas served as host for the evening. He is lead singer for Live in the Flesh, which performed at the JTC’s Job Readiness Training celebration earlier this year.

Beyond the moves and competition for the Cup, team representatives and one of the evening’s judges said it’s all about helping kids find a direction in life, away from gangs and other bad influences. In one case, community support led a team to re-form after a long break.

Jeneé Conway, coach of the Dyme Divas of Pageland, said the team originally formed in 2005, competed for three years and then broke up.

“It was the parents, back in 2016, who asked us to put it back together,” Conway said. “They wanted something positive for the girls. It’s a whole new team.”

Some of the coaches have been involved in stepping for nearly a generation.

Royal Diamonds coach Curtis Taylor started with the Southern Dynasty step team for a number of years before forming the Diamonds five years ago. It’s a co-ed, community team that works out of its own studio behind Columbia Mall.

Patrick Wilson, coach of C Phi Smoov Step & Dance Inc., of Sumter, started stepping more than 20 years ago at Manning High School. He organized C Phi Smoov six years ago; the team has been competing for three years. Like many of the coaches, Wilson emphasizes staying in school and getting an education. In addition to an undergraduate degree, he also holds a Masters of Business Administration and is pursuing his Masters of Education.

Even the judges try to be good examples for the steppers they’re judging.

Although he graduated from Newberry University in 2013, first-time Battle for the Cup judge John Dais started stepping at Atlanta’s Clark University (where Loney is a student) with Omega Psi Phi. He is now part of the JTC and is putting together a special basketball tournament slated for Dec. 15-17 at the center called “Buckets for Toys,” part of his Reaching After Careers and Knowledge (RACK) program.

The step show is part of what Mayes has said is the community coming together to “be a better gang than the gangs.” He pointed out during the Nov. 4 event that a vast majority of JTC students, including members of the Rho Chi Kobraz and Kershaw County Diamonds, have not only gone on to college, the military or workforce, they have been successful in those efforts.

In a way, what the judges look for from the step teams is similar to what employers and college professors are looking for in students and employees.

“We’re looking for neatness, that they’re in unison and not out of control, that they’re smiling and having a good time and their appearance,” Deas said.

Six teams earned prizes Nov. 4, two on the middle school level and four on the high school level. Black Legacy won first place on the middle school level with 145 points, followed by C Phi Smoov with 135 points. As they were the only two teams on that level, both won trophies.

At the high school level, Brothers and Sisters of Distinction won first place with 180 points and earned a $500 cash prize. The Royal Diamonds won second place with 178 points and a $300 prize. Envy-us came in third with 159 points and Dyme Divas fourth with 155 points; both teams earned $100 cash prizes.

Mayes said “something big” is being planned for May 2018 in Camden as far as stepping, but declined to reveal exactly what at this point.

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