Perhaps the most common image that comes to mind when one thinks of the word “cheerleading” are young women in skirts and pom-poms standing on the side of a football field rallying their team to win.
That’s not the case for some Morgan Hill natives.
Breaking that gender stereotype clear into oblivion are a band of Morgan Hill brothers that have no pom-poms to be found; Calvin Calhoun, 26, Michael DeVos, 25, Xavier Bonton, 20, Cameron Bonton, 18 and Napoleon Bonton, 16 are male cheerleaders.
Along with childhood friends Cedric Bushnell, 25, Chris Olivo, 26 and Daniel Zavala, 26, together they hold a laundry list of national and international cheer titles, and most recently have appeared – much to the delight of their mother and cheer supporter, Robin Schaffino – on last Friday’s Dr. Phil show.
Schaffino submitted a letter to the show and before she and her family knew it, they were driving to Los Angeles in an RV for a taping of the show where the boys performed for Dr. Phil.
“I was just proud to see them all together again,” said Schaffino.
“It was kind of cool, I liked being on the show,” said Xavier. “We’re used to performing so it wasn’t anything new.”
Schaffino’s biological children Calvin, Xavier, Cameron and Napoleon, started cheering when her eldest son, Calvin, 13 at the time, picked up the idea from a neighbor. Soon after friend Michael DeVos, who Schaffino considers an adoptive son along with the rest of the crew, went along with him to a couple of practices.
“I was like, ‘Look at all these girls!’ And at first, it was really, really hard, it was a challenge. But after the challenge, we were like OK let’s check out the next practice. And we kept going,” said DeVos, a Live Oak High School graduate.
Soon enough, all Schaffino’s sons, adoptive and biological, began tumbling and jumping around on couches, in the front yard, into the pool off the roof or any space they could find. She instantly became a cheer mom, driving the boys up and down California for competitions or practices. For nationals and worlds competitions the boys would travel across country to places such as Texas or Florida, performing in front of thousands (read: 85,000).
“They were like ‘oh it’s really cool’ and we started going to the gym and started tumbling,” said Xavier, who has appeared in a Verizon Wireless commercial as a cheerleader.
The squad of boys do not cheer for any football or basketball teams: they’re competitors solely in the sport of recreational cheer, a combination of gymnastic-like tumbling routines, dance moves and stunts where people are thrown into the air (fliers) and caught by fellow teammates (bases).
They began with a gym called South Bay Elite, moved to Nor Cal Elite and currently, out of those in the group that still cheer, participate with California All-Stars, which has gyms statewide. DeVos coaches teams at a California All-Star gym in Livermore while Calvin went on to cheer for the University of Louisville.
Cameron is nationally ranked as one of the best tumblers and was asked at the age of 8 to practice with the U.S. Gymnastics team for the Olympics at a gym in San Francisco.
“At this time, he was very dedicated to his team, so when he went, it was hard. He didn’t want to let go of the team and he missed me,” said Schaffino.
The boys once performed for a Russian political party and have appeared on ESPN through competitions, participating in up to 12 competitions per year. Their favorite part of the sport?
“The minute I land my tumbling pass. Everyone comes out of the corners, and tumbles into one pass,” said Cameron. A tumbling pass is a series of tumbling moves strung together. For example, a round-off, back-hand spring, back tuck.
“Performing,” said Xavier. “Tumbling,” said Napoleon, who currently attends Sobrato High School.
Yet being male cheerleaders doesn’t come without a price. DeVos shared that the boys were subject to some bad name-calling and jokes at school.
“It didn’t discourage us,” said DeVos. “Then we started coming to school with our National Championship jackets … We would never get made fun of again because they started knowing us as the ‘back flip guys.’ They would be like ‘guys do a flip!’”
All in all the boys have been cheering for 13 years total, said their mother. Although the group has now dispersed throughout the country, they share a common thread.
“They have their own individual stories but cheer has always kept us together,” said Schaffino.
Watch clips from the show here: http://drphil.com/shows/show/1822/