Sisters Turn Gamble Into Thriving Cheer Company

By John Dudley Erie Times-News, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It has been a long road for two sisters who purchased a cheerleading company back in 1993. While these women in business had to (at first) work fast food jobs to keep the business up and running, their dream of owning a sustaining, thriving business has become a reality. Champion Cheer Central (CCC) is a successful company that employs a staff of 20 and operates year-round competitions throughout the Great Lakes region.

ERIE, Pa.

Teenage sisters Heather Petz and Kim Soder had little money and big dreams when they took a loan from their grandmother, who mortgaged her house to lend it to them, and bought a cheerleading company in 1993.

"We were stupid," said Soder, who was 19 when she and Petz, who was 18, decided to become entrepreneurs. "We thought we were going to retire by the time we were 30."

Instead, Soder and Petz spent years working as managers at Taco Bell restaurants to make ends meet while growing the business, Champion Cheer Central (CCC), which they purchased from Nan and Robin Cavalier, of Connellsville, for an undisclosed sum.

By 2000, the two were able to quit their jobs. Both are now married with children, and they've turned CCC into a thriving business that employs a staff of 20 and operates year-round competitions throughout the Great Lakes region, including Sunday's Lake Erie National Cheer and Dance Championships at Erie Insurance Arena.

"It's really evolved and grown since we bought it," said Petz, who dropped out of college to buy the business she and Soder had been introduced to while attending a CCC-run cheerleading camp in Edinboro.

Petz and Soder run 14 competitions in multiple states, including six qualifiers for Sunday's event, which will bring 144 teams to Erie from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Ontario. They also run separate qualifiers for world championship events in Orlando, Fla., and hold camps throughout the summer months.

"I think they do a phenomenal job," said Lisa Fatica, coach of the Our Lady's Christian School varsity and junior varsity cheerleading teams that will compete Sunday. "When you go to one of their competitions, it's a first-class operation. The judging is fair. They have great awards for the girls."

Soder, 43, has three children and runs the business out of her home in Albion. Petz, 42, has two children and lives in Cleveland.

Both have steered their kids away from competitive cheerleading and into gymnastics and other activities.

"We've really tried to keep them away from the beast," Petz said. "It would be tough to have them competing. There would be a lot of scheduling conflicts, with the kids in one place and one or both of us somewhere else. It's better this way."

Petz and Soder have managed to keep CCC independently run at a time when large cheerleading companies such as Memphis, Tenn.-based Varsity Brands, which annually runs 1,500 competitions and camps nationwide, have gobbled up many smaller operations.

Petz said the two have declined overtures from competing companies interested in acquiring CCC.

"I think we're in it for the long haul," she said. "We have our own identity, and we're very successful in our market."

Soder, who graduated from McDowell High School, and Petz, a Strong Vincent High School graduate, were high school cheerleaders at a time when competitions were nowhere near as large or ubiquitous as they are now.

They envisioned CCC and turning it into something much bigger than it was, although they weren't sure exactly what it might become.

"It worked out pretty well," Petz said. "We were able to pay our grandmother back in three years."

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