Edge Athletics tumbles onto the local scene

May 21—A new space has tumbled onto the scene to help area competition cheerleaders and gymnasts up their tumbling game.

Located at 2866 N. Columbia St. north of Kroger, Edge Athletics opened in March offering beginner, intermediate and advanced tumbling classes. The business is owned by John Milledge Academy state championship-winning competition cheer coach and former college All-American cheerleader, Doug Stephens.

A Jones County native and multi-sport athlete, Stephens' background in female-dominated competition cheerleading can be traced back to a time when the JC Greyhounds weren't all that great on the football field. His junior year some friends persuaded him to drop football in favor of competition cheer. That turned out to be the right decision.

"The first year I was a cheerleader, Jones County won a co-ed state championship," Stephens said. "I just fell in love with the sport."

Stephens' initial success pushed him to pursue the sport further as he joined an All-Star travel cheer team out of Macon. When the time came to decide on his college destination, he spurned wrestling offers to continue cheering at Georgia College & State University. While there he first touched his toe into the coaching waters, joining Lake Country Gymnastics to help build an All-Star cheer program. Stephens eventually started working at John Milledge for his full-time job while maintaining the side gig at LCG.

Marriage to his wife Lorrie came later and so did children, and suddenly there weren't enough hours in the day to be an All-Star cheer coach, school cheer coach and father. Stephens stopped his All-Star duties but continued the less time-consuming private tumbling lessons. Those were done at John Milledge.

"I was fortunate enough that the school let me use the facilities to do the private lessons," Stephens said.

But when a space opened up on the north side of town near his home, Stephens, cheerleader that he is, took a leap of faith and decided it was time for his business to have a storefront. And thus, Edge Athletics was born.

"My wife and I have pondered doing this for a couple of years," Stephens said. "We said if a location ever became available on the north side of town, then we would highly consider doing it."

The word "cheerleader" invokes a certain image, usually a girl standing on the sidelines of a game, chanting, pom poms in hand, maybe throwing the occasional standing back tuck or toe touch. Competition cheer is a completely different animal. The sport includes acrobatic tumbling maneuvers that make most peoples' heads spin. Competition cheer injuries rival those sustained on the football field. Every movement matters. That's where instructors like those at Edge Athletics can come in, helping to hone athletes' tumbling to the precision that judges love to reward.

Stephens now has 18 years, over half his life, of tumbling experience under his belt since starting the sport in high school. He's joined on the Edge Athletics coaching staff by now former GCSU cheerleader Casey Taube, who's going on to cheer at the University of Georgia in the fall, and Hallie Beth Rhodes, a rising high school senior who's been a Stephens pupil since she was 4 years old.

Edge Athletics is a smaller space than other gyms, but Stephens thinks he can make up for size in another area.

"What I have is an efficient spot," he said. "I'm preaching small environment, big time results. I think the product I'm putting out there is going to be effective. Most importantly I want the athletes to have fun. Second, most importantly I want them to improve. We have a dedicated curriculum that all the coaches know. Those who come to our classes will never be not busy. Every student is working for the entire hour."

The Edge owner added one other guarantee.

"The students will leave tired."

In addition to the group classes, Edge also offers private lessons. Stephens said the business would like to eventually serve as a space for kids' birthday parties on the weekends.

For more information on the business, Edge Athletics has a Facebook page, and can also be reached at 478-607-0687.