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Diamonds from the beginning

Posted: March 20, 2017 5:03 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Provided by Brian Mayes/

Members of the KC Diamonds step team get ready to go before a show in Rocky Mount, N.C. The teammates are (from left) Jarriana Jones, N’Mya James, Tanajah Bracey, Mashylla Murphy, Myeisha Stuckey and Hope Gumbs. Not pictured are the coaches for the evening, Nehia Greene and Makaila Allen.

“Dimplez” and “Havoc” have been part of the Kershaw County step team program since they were 9 and 10 years old, respectively.

In 2009, Nehia “Dimplez” Greene attended Camden Elementary School; Hope “Havoc” Gumbs attended Pine Tree Hill Elementary School. Back then, they were part of the Lil’ Diamonds step team and looking up to their older counterparts: the Rho Chi Kobraz. The Kobraz, in turn, had formed out of the original KC Steppers.

“I remember Nehia used to come to all the KC Steppers practices and said that if they could do it, she could do it,” Roberta Mayes said.

Eight years later, Nehia and Hope are still stepping as members of the KC Diamonds. In December 2014, the two girls were part of the team when it took first place and a people’s choice award during a “Battle of the Border” in Bennettsville.

During a look back at the program on Wednesday, as well as a look ahead to the future, they and Mayes were joined by relative newcomer Myeisha Stuckey, a former Camden High School (CHS) cheerleader.

Mayes coaches the team. She and her husband, Brian, the executive director of Camden’s Jackson Teen Center (where the team practices), started the county’s stepping tradition more than 10 years ago. Then, step competitions and shows were held inside Phelps Auditorium at the old Camden Middle School on Laurens Street. The shows later moved to Rhame City Arena and are now held in CHS’ gymnasium.

The KC Diamonds recently hosted the Camden Mayor’s Cup step competition. As hosts, the team did not compete, but did get to show off.

“It’s for the community,” Roberta Mayes said of the shows and competitions. “It gives them (kids) something different to do and it’s a great community event.”

And what does she think after realizing Hope will be leaving for college this year and Nehia next year?

“I don’t really ever let them go and most of them do come back,” she said.

She said this year’s Mayor’s Cup was different than ones during previous years.

“It was more spiritual,” Roberta Mayes said, “and everybody was part of it.”

Even with different iterations of Steppers, Kobraz and Diamonds, there has been consistence: Brian and Roberta Mayes and their insistence that girls or boys who join the program stay out of trouble and do well in school.

Like many in the program, Nehia puts it simply: She doesn’t have time for anything but school and stepping. She is focused on getting through high school and possibly attending Coastal Carolina University.

Hope is still deciding: Coastal? Claflin? Allen? Morris? Like Nehia and Myeisha, Hope participated in the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice’s Job Readiness Training (JRT) program. She worked at the JTC, helping out at the front desk. Hope joked that she is actually in charge of the JTC and Brian Mayes is her assistant.

The JTC is where she is also involved in music. She’s working on a four-song CD that she’ll be able to give to her friends; it won’t be for sale.

“I love to play softball, too, but I gave that up for stepping,” Hope said.

Her takeaways from working with “Miss Roberta?”

“Sportsmanship and commitment,” she said, adding, “I’m gonna miss Roberta.”

Myeisha said she left cheerleading because stepping was “different.” She said it also gave her the chance to meet Roberta Mayes and get to know Hope, Nehia and the other girls on the team. There are currently no boy Diamonds, although Brian Mayes said they are welcome to try out.

She, Nehia and Hope all feel close to Roberta Mayes.

“She’s our mom,” Hope said; Nehia revealed the Mayes are her godparents.

All three girls agreed the program would not be the same -- perhaps might not even exist -- if someone other than Roberta Mayes was coaching the team.

Some people may have noticed that Myeisha doesn’t have a nickname yet. Her teammates explained that she has to be part of the team when it wins first place before she can have one. She’s determined to see that happen.

Indeed, what’s next for the KC Diamonds?

Roberta Mayes is still deciding whether or not to accept an offer for the team to perform at a fashion show in April. More competitions are definitely on the horizon, as is, possibly, a summer step camp.

“It depends on how many of our college kids I can get to come back and help,” she said, referring to former members.

Hope, Myeisha and Nehia are already helping out with “Rubies,” younger kids who might want to join the program.

“We’re seeing how well they catch on and how committed they are,” Nehia said.

Stepping is tough. Routines can last 10, 15 even 20 minutes long and combine aspects of dance, performance art, gymnastics and more. Everything has to be memorized and timed to the second.

Roberta Mayes remembers how the Rho Chi Kobraz “fell out” after finishing their 2010 second-place national championship routine in Nashville, Tenn.

“They were that tired. That’s why we need conditioning,” she said -- one of the things they hope to teach at the summer camp.

As Wednesday afternoon became Wednesday evening, each of the girls and their coach decided to give some “shout outs” to people they care about and who care about them.

“My family, my friends, the other girls on the team and Miss Roberta and Mr. BB,” Hope said, using Brian Mayes’ nickname.

“My mom, Berta, Mr. BB, (Kershaw County Superintendent) Dr. Frank Morgan, my sister, (ALPHA Center Executive Director) Paul Napper, (CHS Principal) Dan Matthews,” Nehia called out.

“My mom and my sister,” said Myeisha.

Roberta Mayes also thanked Morgan and Matthews.

“And anyone who has ever supported us,” she added.

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