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In sync
Mayor's Cup step competition a night to remember
Step 1
Shynell Professor Wells and Shakeem Kaptin Coleman (above) perform at the end of a Rho Chi Kobras routine at Camdens Rhame Arena. The March 12 performance marked the Camden High School seniors last in front of a hometown crowd. - photo by Martin L. Cahn

The throb of music to dance to filled Camden’s Rhame Arena the evening of March 12 for the Mayor’s Cup Step Competition

It was an especially notable night for two Camden High School (CHS) seniors showcasing their talents to a local audience for the last time: Shakeem Coleman and Shynell Wells, the “Kaptin” and “Professor,” respectively, of the Rho Chi Kobras. Shakeem and Shynell are set to graduate from CHS this year with Shakeem moving on to Francis Marion University while Shynell enters the military.

They are still working with their fellow Kobras as the school year winds down, with the team set to compete in the Stomp The Yard Step Competition at Columbia’s Keenan High School April 30.

Before that, the Kobras -- including core members Imani “Siren” Simon, Deneshia “Kare Bear” Reid and Precious “Venom” Williams -- are scheduled to head back to Nashville April 9 to try topping their second-place finish at the Music City Step Fest. They took Nashville by storm in their first-ever national competition in spring 2010 and are shooting for first place this year.

But March 12 was their last chance to show off before a hometown audience filled with people of all ages from toddlers to great-grandfathers.

Family Life Outreach Director Brian Mayes, the team’s sponsor and Mayor’s Cup coordinator, told the crowd to “shake the city of Camden” in welcome for the Kobras. They did.

Dressed in baseball “uniforms,” they started off by “warming up” but then quickly snapped into place -- arms and hands poised in “cobra” poses -- and for the next 15 minutes showed everyone why they’ve made it to the top.

During the routine, nearly everyone got a chance to show off, but, lined up to head off the floor, it soon came down to the Professor and Kaptin. The last two on the floor, they shook, shimmied, leapt and stamped as the crowd’s cheers and applause got louder and louder.

Soon, Shynell danced off, leaving Shakeem by himself. He has been the Rho Chi’s leader, coming up with the music and the moves. Then, he was off the floor, too, to a standing ovation, but only for a moment. Mayes, shouting into a microphone over the crowd’s cheers, called for Shakeem and Shynell to come back to the center of the arena. There, Mayes presented each of them with plaques of appreciation for their time with the Kobras.

The entire team was called back and the Professor took the microphone asking for Mayes’ wife, Roberta, to come over. Roberta Mayes, Shynell, said, was the one who deserved all the credit, helping to keep her and the rest of the team on track with homework, life and stepping.

There were other special moments during the competition.

Following a showcase featuring a pair of praise dancers and then the Li’l Diamonds, a group of black-robed women with masks took the floor. Partway into their somewhat somber routine and facing the judges that would be tallying points for the night’s competitors, they threw away their masks to reveal -- Li’l Diamond and Rho Chi Kobras parents.

Brian Mayes said the women had been stealthily practicing for weeks, managing to avoid scrutiny from their children and the public. They proved -- much to the delight of the crowd -- that they had moves nearly as good as their kids’.

Then it was time for serious business as several teams from Irmo, Lancaster and the town of Kershaw competed for several trophies, including the coveted Mayor’s Cup. (The Rho Chi Kobras and Li’l Diamonds, as hosts, were there to showcase, not compete.)

As it turned out, the top prize went to a team without any competition: the Irmo High School Alliance Step Team, which was no less enthusiastic in its receipt of the trophy as the night’s only high school team.

The real competition was in the middle school division. The job of judging those routines was left to Teresia Hayes of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.; Tiffany Springs, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.; Joseph Davis Jr., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.; and James L. Coleman Jr. of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.

First up was a team from Irmo Middle School, wearing T-shirts declaring “We Bee Buzzin’!” At one point, every member was blindfolded -- in a competition where precision and coordination are keys. They were followed by teams from the town of Kershaw’s Andrew Jackson Middle School and Lancaster’s A.R. Rucker Middle School.

Following the routines, but before the judges’ decision, Mayes asked for attention to honor a man who has helped the Rho Chi Kobras for several years: Paul Napper, executive director of the ALPHA Center who was on hand with his 4-year-old granddaughter, Stella.

“You are the best thing in the world and we appreciate your support,” Mayes told Napper as he handed him the 2011 Li’l Diamond Award.

At evening’s end, it came down to the Andrew Jackson and Rucker middle school teams to capture the ALPHA Center Cup for first place in their division.

Third place went to Irmo Middle School, the second place Rho Chi Kobra Cup went to Rucker and the ALPHA Center Cup for first went to Andrew Jackson.

All the trophies were handed out by Camden City Councilman Willard Polk.

Following the awards presentation, most of the dancers, their friends and family and the audience got on the dance floor to celebrate, the Kobras’ Shakeem among them.

He was still making his moves, only this time it was with nearly 1,400 hundred people stepping to the throb of music that followed those leaving out the door and into the night.