Spirit of Enterprise: Three Cheers for this Mighty Little Gym
Name: George Greendeer, 69
Title: Founder and President of Green Bay Elite Cheer Co.
Type of business: Cheerleading and Tumbling Center
How long in business: 15 years
Original investment: $50,000 + $100,000 to build the gym
Advice for other business owners: “Understand and know your business; make sure your demographics are a reality to whatever business you are trying to open. And don’t limit it only to the reservation.”
When his teenage daughter, a World Champion baton twirler at the age of 12, and her friends couldn’t find a place to practice their cheerleading moves, George Greendeer did what any enterprising father would do: He started his own cheerleading business.
In 1998, with $50,000 he earned as a sales manager for Time Warner Cable, Greendeer bought some equipment, leased a 40’X48’ space and opened Green Bay Elite Cheer Co. with 26 students enrolled the first year. Within five years, 20 cheerleaders from the Senior Co-Ed Travel Team became national champions, and the word about this mighty little gym in De Pere, Wisconsin, spread like wildfire.
The business really took off from there, and Greendeer, a member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, moved the business to a million-dollar, state-of-the-art gym that he built on the Oneida reservation. Green Bay Elite Cheer Co. now trains nearly 140 boys and girls, ages 3 to 18, per year at the De Pere location, and 89 at a second location in Appleton, in cheerleading, tumbling and conditioning. Yearly fees range from $400-$1,900 a year, depending on the level of competition. (Parents pay additional travel expenses and entry fees for competitions.)
And even though Wisconsin was one of the last states to participate in the business of cheerleading, says 69-year-old Greendeer—“Our Packers don’t even have cheerleaders!”—Green Bay Elite Cheer Co. is mopping up the competition.
“We just finished a national convention in Indianapolis, and the one and only team that we took—the Lime Team—scored the highest point average of all 50 teams and won Grand National Champion.” The Lime Team cheerleaders range from 6-15 years old, and four of the talented tumblers are Native American.
Best of all, they won a $25,000 fully-paid bid to compete in the industry’s most prestigious event, the Cheerleading Worlds, this April at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. “In 2010, we took third at the Worlds and won the ‘Small Gym of the Year’ award,” says a very proud Greendeer, who is no stranger to distinguished honors, himself. He is a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, with two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantry Badge.
The cheerleading business, however, didn’t pay off immediately. In fact, it took 10 years to become profitable, says Greendeer. “I wasn’t losing money, it just took a while to get to the point where I could add extra coaches.”
Currently, he employs six certified coaches, including Jordan Morkin, a former Miss Wisconsin and world champion cheerleader; and his champion baton-twirling daughter, Cherokee, now 34, head coach and a board member for the National Association of Cheerleading.
What makes this father of six especially proud is that his business is bringing families together. Cori Frisch’s two daughters have been in the program for nine years. “My ex-husband was very, very abusive and it gave us an out to meet new people and healthier families, and provided a safe, positive place for the kids to spend their time.” Frisch, who has remarried, says the best part about the cheerleading program is that they get to travel to many different places together. “It’s definitely a family project.”
Greendeer says it has been worth all the time and financial investment. “We’re putting families together and I feel I’ve left something behind for these young people that their children will learn to appreciate as an art,” he said. “And cheerleading is an art.”
“Spirit of Enterprise” is a biweekly series spotlighting Native entrepreneurs.
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