A national champion tumbled into the laps of the coaches at Sonshine Academy.
Joshua Hicks, 13, the first individual national titlist the gym has ever had, first walked through the doors at the Conway gym in 2011 as part of a free fitness day for local schoolkids, a promotion to introduce youngsters to gymnastics.
"At the end of the tour and session, Josh came up to me and said, ‘can I show you my flips’" said Scott Wright, the owner and head coach at Sonshine Academy. "I asked him if he could do them without landing on his head. He said he could.
"He then ran onto the floor and did a roundoff with two consecutive back flips. It was unusual for for someone who had just started in a program.
"I asked him how he had learned that. He said in his back yard. He was self-taught."
"I grew up tumbling everywhere," Hicks said.
Wright then summoned his other coaches.
"Watch this kid," he said as Hicks went through another flip routine.
"Even though his technique left a lot to be desired and was raw, I and our other coaches could see his potential," Wright said. "He did it so easily and so light on his feet. So, our very next response to him was, ‘Where is your mother? We need to talk to her.’"
They met his mother.
Wright said, "The first thing his mother said was ‘Is he in trouble? Uh, oh, what did he do?’"
She was told her son had exceptional talent for a novice and they wanted to train him.
Hicks enrolled in the cheerleading program in April of 2011. The next season he made the all-star cheer squad.
The next year, he began competitive trampoline and got into power tumbling, which is one of the three disciplines in the sport of trampoline (trampoline, power tumbling and double mini trampoline). Only the trampoline part is in the Olympics.
He also made the Level 5 cheer squad that qualified for the world championships in Orlando two years in a row.
"He was such a good tumbler that the regional cheerleading group used his tumbling routine as part of their promo video," Wright said.
In power tumbling, competitors do a running tumble routine down a fiber-rod spring floor 80 feet long into a landing area.
Hicks worked his way up the ladder. This year he qualified for the USA Nationals in Louisville, Ky. at Level 8.
He won the national power tumbling title in the 13-14 division by 1.8 points, a significant margin.
"He had never been to regionals, so not many people had seen him, so he kind of surprised people there," Wright said. "He tumbled lights out."
"I just focused," said Hicks.
"He’s had some good coaching here," Wright said. "I was with him in Louisville but when our coaches, particularly the cheer coaches, heard the news, they were as excited as I was. He’s been a blessing. But we consider it a team accomplishment. For us to have an individual national champion is a huge deal.
"I told his mom that if he continued to work, he could possibly represent the U.S. someday in tumbling. Nationally, this was the first step. He’s quick and light on his feet and is a good athlete. He’s a quarterback on his school football team."
He’ll try to qualify for the Junior Elite Development program and possibly for Bela Karolyi’s camp near Houston.
"He’s still raw and he needs to continue to do some development things in his routine," Wright said. "But he’s a good kid. His mother is a single parent and has done a great job of raising him. Our responsibility is to make sure he continues to make good progress and keep him safe from major injury.
"It’s also a challenge for us as we teach on the elite level. At some point in his progession, we are going to have to teach things we have never taught before. We’re going to have to have the help of other coaches who have taught on that level. But that is exciting because it will cause us to push our envelope to another level as well."
Although he trains three days a week, Hicks said tumbling is still enjoyable.
"It’s just awesome (to compete at a national level)," Hicks said. "You can go places and have fun."