January 2021

Texarkana Magazine




JANUARY • 2021

TEXARKANA MONTHLY January | 2021 | Volume 2 | Issue 1

36. ENTERTAINMENT Page Thirty-Six 38. STYLE An Architect’s Angle

10. cover/BUSINESS Twice as Nice 14. POLITICS Division Over Divisiveness


24. CULTURE A Life Taylor-Made for Dancing 30. SPORTS Ready? OK!



44. LIFE Remembering to Move Forward 46. STYLE A Fresh Look for a New Year 50. TXK ROOTS Collin Raye


18. COMMUNITY The Gift of Gab 22. COMMUNITY Ready or Not

2801 Richmond Road • Suite 38 Texarkana, Texas 75503 903.949.1460 letstalk@texarkanamonthly.com texarkanamonthly.com Publisher CARDINAL PUBLISHING Staff CASSY MEISENHEIMER cassy@texarkanamonthly.com

CASSY MEISENHEIMER In 2021, I plan to enjoy all the moments. The days are long, but the years are short!

TERRI SANDEFUR In 2021, I will be kind and remember everyone is on their own journey.

KARA HUMPHREY In 2021, I’m going to avoid gossip, keep secrets and TRY to keep my unsolicited opinions to myself.

TERRI SANDEFUR terri@texarkanamonthly.com

KARA HUMPHREY kara@texarkanamonthly.com

LEAH ORR In 2021, I hope to hug more, eat less, skip the news and travel with friends and family.

MOLLY KENDRICK In 2021, I won’t sweat the petty stuff or pet the sweaty stuff.

MEGAN GRIFFIN In 2021, I will drink more water. Maybe.

LEAH ORR leah@texarkanamonthly.com

MOLLY KENDRICK molly@texarkanamonthly.com

MEGAN GRIFFIN megan@texarkanamonthly.com

Local Sources


SHELBY AKIN In 2021, I will cook at least once for my husband (sorry Kyle), and maybe muster the guts to play in a tennis tournament.

MATT CORNELIUS In 2021, I’m going to try to remember to write 2021 instead of 2020. Keeping it simple.

BAILEY GRAVITT In 2021, I’m going to cut back from five Whataburger Honey Butter Chicken Biscuits a week to only four.


TIFFANY HORTON In 2021, I will travel more and soak up every moment with my husband and kids.

SONJA HUBBARD In 2021, post COVID-19, I’m hugging everyone I see!

PATSY MORRISS In 2021, I’m going to celebrate being 20 years cancer free and the 50 th anniversary of my high school graduation.



JOE REGAN In 2021, I plan to be the best pet I can be to the seven cats that own me.

EMILY SARINE In 2021, I resolve to love as big as possible and to try to drink less Coke Zero. I’m drinking a Coke Zero as I resolve to do this.

SUZIE TYLER In 2021, I pledge not to let 2020 define my 2021. I plan to claim the victory of my growth from this year and carry it forward into the new year!

Texarkana Monthly is a multimedia publication showcasing the Texarkana area and is designed and published by Cardinal Publishing, LLC. Articles in Texarkana Monthly should not be considered specific advice, as individual circumstances vary. Ideaology, products and services promoted in the magazine are not necessarily endorsed by Texarkana Monthly .




W e made it… or we are making it, as we gladly welcome a new year! In March, I didn’t know if my kids would ever return to school, if I would ever get to watch sports again, or when we’d be able to give hugs! Thankfully, I survived, sports are back and I have hugged all the people that will let me. So welcome 2021! We are ready for a clean slate, a chance to do things differently and to carry on with our

music taste is limited to 90s country, or 90s hip-hop, or whatever is on K-LOVE . I think being so out of touch with trends gives me extra time and a deep appreciation for what is happening around me. I pay attention to the people in my area and want to be a part of what is happening here. If you take the time to look, you will see Cindy and Dr. Matt Young keeping their fingers on the pulse of our community. You

ever-growing mask collections and the fight against the “maskne” they cause. “Social-distancing,” “quarantine life,” and “virtual”-everything describes how we roll now. It is fascinating at one second past midnight on January 1, when the jump from Thursday to Friday, which normally holds no significance, suddenly brings champagne toasts, celebrations, reflection and resolutions. This unique tick of the clock prompts us into transition. It’s a moment by which we keep the chronological score of our lives. It’s a time to raise our glasses and toast our survival (especially this year)! What entices us to start each year with resolutions? Is it about survival, too? Committing to live healthier, better and longer are just examples of our desire to have some control over what lies ahead. The future is unsettlingly unknowable and that truth took me a while to accept. I don’t think I truly grasped how out of control I was until my husband and I unexpectedly lost our first son. A trouble-free pregnancy came to a screeching halt the day before I was due to deliver. It was a devastating lesson that taught me, no matter what resolution I had made for that year, the reality of our lives was going to require

can find Dr. Young serving as the Bowie County Health Authority, Medical Director of LifeNet and your hometown doctor at Texarkana Emergency Center and Hospital. Cindy is more behind the scenes but is the visionary behind the impeccable services they offer and the almost $500,000 they have given back to the community! They are a generous couple who work together to improve Texarkana. I’ve known them to leave random acts of kindness on people’s cars around town, support the local school districts, celebrate our first responders and help with almost anything they are asked to do. We had a great (socially distanced and completely masked up) evening interviewing the Youngs in their home and shooting photos. As I listened to them share their story about family, business and community, they inspired me. It is encouraging as a new entrepreneur, mom and wife, to hear about their business, their love for one another and most importantly, their faith and trust in the Lord. As we are all settling in to the new habit of writing “2021,” let’s be encouraged. No matter how many resolutions we have made, kept or failed, it doesn’t really matter. We aren’t in control anyway. With a 365-page

a lot of prayer from others and a hoped for miracle of peace. From that experience and the blessing of two more sons, I have become someone who is pretty predictable but continues to live life moment by moment. I may be one of the few people in the world who still does not have Netflix. My friends laugh at me because my favorite shows to watch on TV are Good Morning America , The 700 Club and Dateline … this is not a joke. I have never seen Yellowstone , and my

book to fill, write a good one. Let’s follow the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors and let every new year find you a better man.”







T exarkana is known for being “Twice as Nice” because of our location on the state line between Texas and Arkansas. From our ability to be in two places at once, to a healthy cross-town rivalry, Texarkana’s character, in large part, comes from straddling these two great states. Ask the locals, “What makes Texarkana ‘Twice as Nice?’” and you will often hear, “the people!” Businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals contribute to this mentality by maintaining an inclusive, energetic and welcoming environment. Adding to Texarkana’s points of pride, local philanthropists and founders of Texarkana Emergency Center and Hospital, Dr. Matt and Cindy Young, have worked together in the medical field for over 20 years, ensuring Texarkana receives the best healthcare in the Four States area. Dr. Young and Cindy recall the beginning of their story together like it was yesterday. Dr. Young was living in Texarkana mowing lawns before he left for medical school. One afternoon, following a full day of yard work, he ran into an old friend and struck up a conversation. He can’t recall what they talked about that day, but the one thing he remembered was her beautiful roommate, Cindy. For Dr. Young, it was love at first sight. Dr. Young recalls, “I was determined to take her on a date.” “He was definitely persistent! I think he asked me out five times and I kept saying, ‘No,’” said Cindy. Luckily for Dr. Young, his friend, Dr. Don Tribbey, worked with Cindy at CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital and advocated on his behalf. Cindy eventually agreed to a simple lunch date to keep things low pressure, and the rest is history. “Matt picked me up for lunch on a Sunday afternoon,” Cindy said. “I was a

little nervous when we pulled into a gas station and Matt got out of the car. He told me we were having a burrito and a Slurpee in the park because he did not have any money!” Luckily, Matt was joking and quickly jumped back into the car with a laugh. “We are all about a joke in my family,” Cindy said, “That’s when I thought I might give him a chance.” They had a nice lunch at a local restaurant in town. “Matt and I have been together ever since.” Together, the Youngs have built a business inspired by the longtime passion of Dr. Young’s family for healthcare. Raised in Texarkana with nine siblings, Dr. Young attended St. James Day School, Highland Park Elementary, Pine Street Middle School

it was the ministry of helping others that drove a lot of us into healthcare. It was just in our blood. It felt obvious.” With his passion for helping others, Dr. Young felt drawn to emergency medicine. “No one plans to have an emergency. Being present for people who need help the most during their raw emotions is what I love most about practicing emergency medicine.” Dr. Young and Cindy moved to Texarkana in 1999, and Cindy planned to be a stay at home mom. Instead, in 2000, Dr. Young took over management of a contract at CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital and Cindy became his practice manager. They recognized the need for a freestanding emergency room in Texarkana, so when the laws changed in Texas regarding these types of facilities, they began to brainstorm. On Christmas Eve, 2014, Cindy received an unexpected Facebook message from Dr. Dallas Bailes. Dr. Bailes was interested in opening a freestanding emergency room in Texarkana and thought the Youngs were the right contact for the opportunity. The Youngs discussed their options, and by February 2015, the former bank building on Cowhorn Creek was under contract. Less than one year after Cindy opened Dr. Bailes’ Facebook message in November 2015, Texarkana Emergency Center opened for business. Cindy oversaw the construction and hiring, but she planned to be out of the business by December 2015. However, five years and one large expansion later, Cindy remains the visionary and CEO and Dr. Young continues to be the Chief Medical Officer. This past year, the emergency center expanded to become a hospital in order to offer even more services to the Texarkana area. Texarkana Emergency Center and Hospital (TECH) celebrated its five-year anniversary in November 2020. TECH has become a well-known and respected,

Dr. Matt and Cindy Young on a Caribbean cruise in 2008

and Texas High School. His dad practiced medicine independently and his mom was a Licensed Vocational Nurse, working with him in his office. Dr. Young’s parents never pushed their children into medicine. Many of their children went to college for business or finance, but in the end, seven ended up in the medical field and one became a vet. Dr. Young’s family instilled in him a very realistic perception of medicine from a young age. “Our dad was on call 24/7, but my siblings and I saw him helping others,” Dr. Young said. “Medicine gave us a religious background, guiding us to understand that God is in control. I think




free-standing emergency center and concierge micro-hospital. It is patient- focused and dedicated to providing high- quality service in a timely manner. With the expansion, TECH added four inpatient beds, an MRI machine, a procedure room and a cafeteria. The focus of a concierge micro-hospital is to create an environment which makes patients and families feel comfortable. The facility features hotel-like furnishings, patient comforts such as plush robes and delicious food sourced from Julie’s Deli and other local restaurants. While the amenities are state of the art, it’s the team that makes the real difference. Dr. Young commented, “We wouldn’t be the best emergency center and hospital in the four states area without our staff. This includes our administrative team, Brooke Marshall, Kendall Griffith and Amy Masco, and the x-ray technicians, medics, security officers, nurses and personnel at the front desk. Everyone on our team contributes to the success of our business.” Dr. Young practices alongside co-owners Dr. Erik Jacobson, Dr. Kyle Groom, Dr. Dean Bowman and Dr. Bo Kelley. TECH is also honored to have Dr. Shanna Spence, who routinely practices as part of the TECH family. From billboards throughout Texarkana, to their sponsorships and attendance at local events, the vital presence of the

TECH team is undeniable, but the impact made by the Youngs goes much further. Dr. Young serves as Texarkana’s Local Health Authority, working closely with CHRISTUS St. Michael and Wadley Hospitals, providing crucial guidance to local city officials, schools and the entire community throughout this COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Dr. Young is serving his 17th year as LifeNet’s Medical Director, and he also serves as Medical Director for the EMT program at Texarkana College. Cindy has donated her resources in education, the arts and the Junior League of Texarkana. During her provisional year, she co-chaired the new member project, Shoes for the Soul, which still occurs twice a year. The Junior League of Texarkana works with local schools to identify children in need of shoes and clothes and invites them for a day of shopping at Target with Junior League members. This is a project that still holds a special place in her heart. “I grew up in a home where we had what we needed, but not all the luxuries,” Cindy said. “One time, when I was little, I broke my sandal and it was a big expense to buy a new pair of shoes outside of our normal

Junior League provisional class could do. I know it has put thousands of shoes on our children in the community.” The Youngs stay very busy most of the time, but when it is time for a little “R&R,” they enjoy visiting their sons in Dallas or taking their family to Albert Pike. Their oldest son, Logan (24), is finishing his graduate degree in finance at Southern Methodist University, and Garrett (20) is in his second year at the University of Dallas, playing basketball, with plans to pursue a career in the medical field. When Dr. Young and Cindy look at each other, their love for one another radiates. Finishing each other’s sentences, it is obvious why they make one of Texarkana’s strongest teams. From emergency room patients, to a child in need of a new pair of shoes, the Youngs continue to make their mark on the lives of local people every day. They model for all of us how work ethic, compassion and teamwork can make an enormous impact in the lives of so many, and they help to solidify

Texarkana as a place we can be proud to call “Twice as Nice.”

budgeted time. I felt guilty for the expense. I knew this event was a big need after being in schools with my children, and it felt like it was something the







A t a time when seemingly simple issues like face masks and election results create animosity between colleagues, friends, and even family members, it is hard to argue that we are not a country divided. But are we really divided or more divisive, or both? Division is a separation of opinion or feeling, while divisive is defined as creating dissention or discord. Call us divided if you will, but having attempted a few casual political debates recently, I would define the reactions as divisive and even a tad emotional. Divisiveness seems to be a cyclical thing, but divided we’ve always been. Divided could be a political descriptor of our country from the time of its formation. The British and the Colonial settlers divided, of course. Then, the founding fathers’ Federalists vs. Republican policy debates formed our Constitution, whose pillars are grounded in division. The principal source of our theory of separation of powers as implemented in the Constitution was not an American idea but that of Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, a French judge and political philosopher. He argued for three separate branches of government, each of which would have defined abilities to check the powers of others. The Constitution divides the federal government into three branches to make sure no individual or group will have too much power: • Legislative—Makes laws (Congress, composed of the House of Representatives and Senate) •

Executive—Carries out laws (president, vice president, cabinet and most federal agencies) Judicial—Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)

This ability for each branch to hold distinct powers and authorities, with checks from the other branches, ensures we do not fall under the rule of despot, tyranny or absolute authority. The structure established by our Constitution has stood for centuries, survived wars, both the industrial and technological revolutions, unimaginable societal changes, and many a diverse and even divisive






Congress and president. Yet, she continually serves as guardrails to ensure we have the fairest, most stable governmental structure in the world. We were designed to be divided, but in a cooperative, non- divisive manner. It is a system with checks and balances, not just to audit or oversee, but to ensure and enforce the best decisions and policies are enacted to serve the citizens of this country. Being politically divided has a history of working well for us, especially economically. Fortune Magazine reports, the S&P 500 historically has done well under a divided Congress, up over 17% on average. According to a recent report by WalletHub, based on our history, the U.S. economy does best under a Republican Congress and a Democratic president. Among their findings: • GDP growth rate shows 4.22% better performance under both Democratic president and congress. • Household income improves an average of $1,524 under a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. • Employment rates show most improvement, .85%, under a Democratic president and a blended Congress. • The health insurance rates improve with a Democratic president and mixed congress

While the outcome of the Georgia run-off elections is yet to be determined, investors and prognosticators alike seem confident that the Republicans will retain control of the Senate, ensuring a divide. But even if Democrats gain control of the Senate by prevailing in these two runoff elections, they will hold a razor-thin majority and there is no guarantee that everyone will march in lockstep with party leadership. The most conservative Democrat in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is in a position of particular importance. He has bragged of being more “moderate or centrist than anybody else in Congress,” adding, “If we can’t come together to help America, God help us.” Doesn’t that say it all? We are Americans first. Even divided, we can still find common ground and get beyond the current divisiveness. On December 2, in valedictory remarks delivered on the Senate floor, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a retiring Republican, pleaded with his colleagues to recommit to a spirit of cooperation and open debate. Alexander said the chamber had erred and that it deserved the public frustrations that have been heaped upon it. He faulted senators on both sides of the aisle for blocking each other’s amendments. In closing, he commented, “Lately the Senate has been like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being able to sing. It’s a real waste of talent.” On a further unifying and encouraging note, during a recent Zoom meeting in which I participated, the Republican Senator Perdue of Georgia (one candidate in the run-off), specifically addressed working together, finding common ground, reaching across the divide to serve the greater good—making a better life for the citizens of this country. Division forces politicians to debate, negotiate and settle agreements that serve the majority of the citizens, while divisiveness creates animosity, inaction and harms all. It is time to embrace our divide and set aside the divisiveness. To grow as a country and people, division over divisiveness.

Job growth is up 2.8% on average under a Democratic president and Congress.

• National debt as a percentage of GDP dips an average of .76% with a Democratic president and Republican Congress, with the last balanced budget being with Democrat Bill Clinton as President and Republican Newt Gingrich serving as Speaker of the House. Then there is Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit all-time highs in post-election November. Investors have voted for the divided government with their pocketbooks. They are banking on a division of power between President and Senate come January.








Table Talk producer Maggie Bunch with Libby White and Bobbie Nell Ross photos by Molly Kendrick

I grew up in a large family, and my favorite time was Sunday dinner after church, sitting around the table eating fried chicken and talking. Everyone discussed the previous week’s events and spoke about their plans for the following week. In those talks around the table, I learned so much about my family; the areas where they were struggling, where they were succeeding, what their hopes were for the future and their plans for making those dreams come true. It was precious time. It is as true now as it was then; the table sets the stage for some of the most meaningful conversations. With that in mind, do not miss the opportunity to tune in to Table Talk , Texarkana’s hottest local talk show! It is a 30-minute program, with friends Libby White and Bobbie Nell Ross, sitting around the table drinking coffee with their guests, discussing life and what’s happening in Texarkana. Both women love people and have the gift of gab. Their goal with the show is to create a family atmosphere with an enjoyable environment to get their guests talking and listeners engaged. They are accomplishing that with every new episode. The chemistry on set creates an atmosphere similar to that of The Regis and Kathy Lee Show , with wholesome entertainment. For Libby and Bobbie Nell, it is an avenue to invest in our community while attempting to minister into people’s lives. That is their primary

goal, and their challenge is to keep the show warm, genuine and real. The women met at church and have families with young children. They are involved in their church’s media and children’s programs. When Don Walker, an employee of KLFI, and a lifelong friend, suggested they host a talk show, they were quickly on board! Even though they had media knowledge and experience, they had never imagined doing a television show. As the dream became a more solid reality, they recruited their husbands to join them in their new venture. They have been very supportive, and Libby’s husband even built the set for the show. It really has become a family affair, but with so much of their routine being devoted to the raising of their small children, they have thoroughly enjoyed these weekly adult conversations with the incredible people of Texarkana. The show’s producer, Maggie Bunch, may be behind the scenes, but it is she who researches and books the intriguing guests that continue to keep the show fresh and interesting. She also prepares each script before the show’s taping at the KLFI studios on Beech Street. Each show is a true collaboration of these three talented ladies. The KLFI television station was the brainchild of former Governor Mike Huckabee. He hosted a similar show in the ‘80s called Heart to Heart . He eventually moved on to other endeavors,




including a successful political career. He currently hosts The Huckabee Show , recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and seen weekly on CBN . Wes Crenshaw of Blue Line Technology, a Dallas company, now owns the station, and it is operated under the watchful eyes of Maggie Bunch and Don Walker. The first episode of Table Talk aired in early 2020, and taping is done on Fridays. New shows are released on Tuesday evenings between 5:00 and 7:00 pm, and back episodes are available on KLFI at 4:30 each weekday. All previously aired shows are also available anytime on the Table Talk Facebook page, (@Table Talk-

TXK), KLFI-TV YouTube, and there is even a KLFI-TV app available for download on your mobile device. The pandemic has changed life for all of us, but a few Table Talk adventures have gone on location at local Texarkana businesses. The show plans to expand their horizons and do more on location spots when possible. They have even tossed around the idea of some live taping experiences, but admitted it would be a little scary not to have the safety net of editing. However, Libby and Bobbie Nell are up for it and love the idea of tackling new challenges. For the second season of Table Talk , the ladies have implemented a five-minute segment on faith, which is becoming a host and fan favorite. They spend the last five minutes of each show sharing personal testimonies, favorite scriptures, and how they have been inspired by them. It is just one more opportunity for them to minister and bring hope to their viewers. One goal of the Table Talk team is to grow their audience so more people can be positively impacted by their guests and the things these two impressive women personally bring to the table. The ultimate goal is to be a heartwarming, informative and fun voice in the community. They want to share a positive message with their audience and use their platform to minister to viewers. Great things are in store for the future of Table Talk . Tune in so you don’t miss it!








April and May have only a few entries, most of which refer to scheduled trips that didn’t happen. Starting in June, the planner’s pages are pristine. By then I had tucked it away in a drawer, the big picture no longer relevant. My routine dictates I should soon visit the office supply store and buy a 2021 planner. I should thoughtfully and carefully lay out my year so I can be prepared for what’s coming. But all I can see are the words “QAATH,” “VBTEQC” and “FEHLLP.” I’m not whining. I’m merely saying that if 2020 taught me anything at all, it was this lesson: You have to roll with the punches. In the words of the woman who ordered so much stuff online she couldn’t keep track, “If FedEx delivers a llama on Tuesday, it is what it is.” #pandemicmotto Life often throws us curveballs and many years are wild rides. What made 2020 unique is that we were all thrown screwballs simultaneously while we rode on a bus that had been hijacked by a demented monkey. I’ve had bad years before; we all have. However, most of my bad years were mine alone. While I was dealing with cancer or a divorce, other people were living their best lives. We’re not used to widespread hardship. My parents’ generation experienced more than a few shared trials in their lifetime. Thankfully, my peers and I have had more luck. We missed World War II and the Great Depression completely, and most of us skated right between Vietnam and the Gulf War. The biggest all-encompassing challenge I can recall was the fuel

It was a word search with directions advising that the first three words you saw would define your 2021. If you looked closely, you could find words like “hope,” “friends,” “job” and “marriage.” More humorous prospects like “wine,” “sex” and “pot” were there too. My friend David’s comment resonated with me most. The first words he saw were “QAATH,” “VBTEQC” and “FEHLLP.” Amen, brother! When I think about the beginning of last year and all I expected it to bring, I can only chuckle at my childlike innocence. This year, at least we’ll know better than to plan. For several years I’ve used the calendar on my phone to keep track of where I’m supposed to be and when, and for the most part, it works pretty well. I can’t, however, seem to get the big picture from it, so I always buy a paper monthly planner and sketch out my plans a few months ahead. I took out my 2020 monthly planner this morning. It looks pretty normal until you get to March. A wedding scheduled for late that month is crossed through; beside it in my husband’s handwriting is the word “postponed.” You can almost hear the sound of brakes squealing.




crisis in the seventies. I remember, as a student at SMU, a road trip to Joe T. Garcia’s being scrapped because we couldn’t find an open gas station. We were, to put it in seventies terms, “pretty bummed.” Even at the time, I realized what a bunch of lightweights we were. Our parents had experienced a world war and a depression, and we were upset because we couldn’t go to Fort Worth and eat Mexican food. It was what these days I call a “champagne problem.”

Like most people, I regularly participate in many activities that take place annually. Time goes by so quickly these days. I’m constantly surprised when it’s already time for a particular event to occur yet again. This convention or that fundraiser or another family reunion seems like it just happened, and here it is, back again. The year we just finished acted as a bit of a reset in that respect. I expect to be a touch more excited this year if those annual

Special thanks to Gregg Orr Auto for the convertible used in our photo shoot. photos by Molly Kendrick

We don’t know what this crisp new year will bring. We can buy planners all day long and it won’t change that fact. We know better than to count on anything at this point, but we still need to take the wheel and cruise—or maybe careen—into 2021 with positive energy and the confidence that we can handle whatever it throws our way.

activities are allowed to take place. Fingers crossed! We all have lots to do. With any luck, the break will soon be over. It’s time to put away the jigsaw puzzles and get ready. I’m buying a planner and making plans for the year. Here’s a plan: I’ll write in my planner with a pencil.





A famous philosopher once said, “We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” This statement stirs something inside the heart of even the most dedicated wallflower. Whether for fun or romance, in worship or in performance, there’s just something about dancing that takes stress and worry and sets them aside for a brief moment and replaces them with joy. As a 9-year-old dancing in church, Travawyn (Tray) Taylor stumbled upon that joy and has determined to never waste another day. Nine short years later, Tray is an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Houston pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and is an elite dancer. He first discovered his passion for the art form naturally when he noticed, “I did it all the time and looked to it for a stress reliever.” Tray, recognizing the financial burden of dance school tuition, used all the tools at his disposal to begin honing his craft. “I just used YouTube, and I looked up stretching videos. I would try to copy their moves and technique,” he said. This is how Tray’s training progressed for the next two years. As his talent for dance became obvious to those around him, a very generous lady at the Boys and Girls Club where Tray regularly spent time recognized the special abilities he possessed and wanted to TAYLOR


photos by Molly Kendrick

help him continue to progress. She offered him a scholarship to any dance school in Shreveport, where he lived. “I went to the dance school called Power and Grace, and she paid for everything,” Tray said. It was at the Power and Grace School of Performing Arts, where Tray began his formal training under experienced teachers in state-of-the-art facilities. There was no turning back for this highly motivated and extremely talented boy, and now he had the extra help he needed to excel. After a couple of years, Tray’s family moved to Texarkana. While Tray continued to use YouTube videos and other online resources as vital training tools, he also enrolled at Joni’s Gymnastics, Dance and Cheer Centre, which “involved intense training that pushed me a lot,” he recalled. Whether contemporary, ballet, hip-hop, tap, jazz, modern, jazz funk, musical theater, or others, it was at Joni’s that Tray began working to master them all. “My favorite would have to be contemporary because it’s ever-evolving and I feel so vulnerable creating anything in this style, whether it has a meaning or not.” “Tray has so much rhythm, musicality, and natural talent. He expects a lot of himself and never gives up. He loves learning technique correctly and practices it daily. Through the years he was at my studio, he rose to an incredibly advanced level. He has an amazing mother and twin brother who encourage and cheer




him on every time he is on stage,” said Joni Wright, owner of JGDC. Tray now lives in Houston, where he is majoring in dance and training at a studio called DanceZone. “My biggest challenge with dance would have to be believing in my process and seeing my growth because sometimes I beat myself up about how well I think I’m progressing,” he said, but “moving to Houston to continue my craft has really pushed my artistry.” Tray has won many awards, and he recently received over $3,000 in scholarships through the New York City Dance Alliance. It’s the constant support from his family that has made all the difference in Tray’s pursuit of his dreams. His family includes his mom, his stepdad, two older sisters and his twin brother. “My Mom would have to be the main person who inspires me,” he said. “For many years, she was a single parent and even had three jobs at one point. Fast forward, she has decided to go to college at 54 and continues to support my brother and I in full.” It’s her example which has encouraged Tray and his siblings to dream big and to pursue their goals wholeheartedly. They do that knowing they have a loving and supportive family behind them. They are a close family and spend time playing games and even dancing together, which is often chronicled for all to see through Tray’s social media. These often viral videos show the deep appreciation he has for all of them. Dancing is not the only place where Tray shines. He has also become a social media phenomenon, with his Instagram account @tray.taylor1 having 147,000 followers. TikTok, however, is where he really stands out as a social media powerhouse. He has a verified account, @schoollunchtray, where he posts dance and comedy content for his 3.1 million followers and where he has received over 147 million likes on his videos. “I don’t really know how I blew up on Instagram/ TikTok,” he said. “I just posted what made me feel good and people love when people are authentic to themselves.” Putting yourself out there for the world to see requires that authenticity and a vulnerability, in addition to the creativity and dance talent, which make Tray’s







videos so entertaining. “I would consider myself a mix of an introvert and extrovert, because on one hand I’m really outgoing and love to meet new people, but I also love being by myself and having ‘me-time.’” While the notoriety of internet stardom was not planned, there can be many benefits for those like Tray, who have stumbled upon it accidentally. Connections with people of influence in companies and corporations are a real asset and highly valued for people heading into a career in the performing arts. “I think social media can be a jump starter to getting those connections, showing who you are and what you represent, and figuring out how you want your career path to go, [which] in my case specifically, [is] content creating. The pay is also nice,” he adds with a laugh. Tray is an obvious star. The potential for his future is immeasurable, and he has big goals. “My future plans will be to travel to Los Angeles to become a professional dancer and choreographer and also continue content creating,” he said. “In ten years, I see myself in L.A., thriving not only as a dancer, but as an activist for any people unsure about what path they really want to take. I feel like high school, and society in general, can be so toxic in saying how people should live their lives. I want to dance. That’s it.” That’s what he wants, so that’s what he’s going to put his whole heart into, and not stop until he’s reached his goals. “I do believe in backup plans because dance careers are short-lived, but I believe that me giving my all for dance right now will pay off in the end.” Talent, motivation, exposure and connections added to a strong family foundation, create the perfect recipe for a delicious future. “My motto,” said Tray, “would be to ‘Learn from experiences and be willing to change for the better.’” If what that old philosopher says is true and dancing really does enhance every day, Tray Taylor is leaving nothing to chance. He is putting in the work and developing the perfect conditions to make each day a success. We could all learn a lot from Tray. In a world where chaos and stress can sometimes be overwhelming, why not, even if just for a moment each day, set it all aside and take the time to dance?





photo by actionmoments.com

DEDICATION, ATHLETICISM, AND POISE Three words that come to mind when I think about cheerleading. The question is often asked, “Is cheerleading a sport?” If you have ever asked a cheerleader, you have no doubt gotten an earful. As a former cheerleader, former cheer coach and a current cheer mom, I have plenty to say and was really excited when Texarkana Monthly asked me to be a guest writer. Did you know that cheerleading actually dates back to the late 1800s, and it was originally an all-male sport? According to an article by ​ Pacific Standard Magazine , “The Manly Origins of Cheerleading” by Lisa Wade, early cheer was “characterized by gymnastics, stunts, and crowd leadership, cheerleading was considered equivalent in prestige to an American flagship of masculinity football.” The article outlines how cheer transitioned from a male to female- dominated sport. After reading this article, I did a little more digging

and learned a lot about cheer that even I didn’t know. In 1884, Princeton University came up with a cheer for the crowd to boost spirit. At a game against the University of Minnesota on November 2, 1898, student Johnny Campbell noted the concept and organized Minnesota fans in chanting for their team. As a result, he is often given credit as the first official “cheerleader” (​ EpicSports.com ) and this date is given as the official birth date of organized cheerleading. In the late 1920s, the University of Minnesota allowed women to participate in cheer even though most schools still did not. However, it wasn’t until World War II, as men headed off to war, that we see women really stepping onto the sidelines. As women moved in, parts of society deemed cheerleading “too masculine” and an evolution began. Because pants were not part of the acceptable everyday clothing of women of the teens and twenties, I feel quite certain the ankle-length skirts they sported played a role in this




early evolution. By the 1950s, cheerleading was a female-dominated sport, and that trend continued well into the 70s. By 1975, 95% of cheerleaders were female ( ​Hanson, Mary Ellen. Go! Fight! Win!: Cheerleading in American Culture )​ While high schools across the nation boasted squads of beautiful, bubbly females, the collegiate level was still home to a fair share of male cheerleaders. One cheerleader in particular, Lawrence Herkimer, was already making waves and would eventually revolutionize the sport. In 1949, Herkimer, a former cheerleader from Southern Methodist University, administered a cheerleading education clinic. The first clinic had only 52 participants; the second had 350! He founded the National Cheerleading Association (NCA), and by the 1960s, college cheerleaders could find employment with NCA by coaching workshops around the country. The popularity of NCA and the ability to teach cheerleaders proper technique led to the invention of new jumps, stunts, uniform styles and ultimately competitions. NCA is still considered paramount in cheerleading. To win NCA nationals, or work on the NCA staff, is often a cheerleader’s ultimate goal. Texarkana native and current University of Central Arkansas cheerleader, Haley Smith, is part of the NCA staff. “Because cheer has had such a big influence in my life, I’m very passionate about it. I love that being part of the NCA staff allows me to spread my love for cheer to younger people,” she said. The 1980s introduced difficult stunts and gymnastics to cheerleading on a whole new level. In 1983, ESPN aired the first televised cheerleading competition. The 80s also brought the birth of all-star teams, squads that work solely towards the goal of competing. Concepts expanded, and teams at every level became more and more focused on athleticism. Tryouts were judged by knowledgeable outsiders, and spots were earned on merit. The tryout process and the general nature of cheer, instills a sense of confidence and creates growth in its very own way. ​Joni Wright, owner of Joni’s Gymnastics, Dance and Cheer Centre, home of Cheer Elite All-Stars, elaborated, noting that cheerleading has a tremendous

photos by actionmoments.com

impact on the lives of cheerleaders outside of the gym. “One of the most important things cheerleading instills is confidence. This is because it shows you that you can accomplish difficult things and it surrounds you with good, supportive friends, and among other things teaches the athletes to stand up for themselves, enthusiasm, focus and determination, teamwork, to be fearless, to deal with high-pressure situations, commitment, setting goals and to never stop smiling.” So, what really defines a sport, anyway? According to ​Bing.com ​, a sport is “​an activity involving physical exertion

and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” When I asked local Twin City Cheer and Gymnastics owner, and Pleasant Grove cheer coach, Shera Hopkins what she thought, she exclaimed, “Of course I consider it a sport. I think the physical, emotional part, the hours of training, and even the injuries are consistent with all types of sports. Plus, the dedication these kids put into trying to better themselves and improve their skills is equal to athletes in all fields.” Joni got straight to the point saying, “They get judged, they compete, they have to stay conditioned; what could




possibly make it not a sport?” I couldn’t agree more! Cheerleading involves physical exertion, skill, and competition. Can you hold an entire person in the air over your head? What if I asked you to yell and dance while holding them? Former University of Arkansas cheerleader Cheyenne Jester really hit the nail on the head when she said,​“​I think the hardest part about being a cheerleader is the lack of credit we get. Some people think we just stand on the sidelines to look pretty. What they don’t understand is the time and effort we put in. They don’t understand the pressure we put our bodies through—the wear and tear of cheerleading. They do not understand that it takes coordination, technique, strength, and a lot of practice to cheer and execute skills. Not only are we there to support other teams, but we are also focusing on our technique, execution of routines, while also paying attention to the sport we are cheering for to make sure we are cheering the correct cheers at the right time. Routines are to be memorized on top of motions, (and) skills, all the while being a part of another game!” Shera’s answer reiterated this sentiment as well. “There are so many skills and qualities that they have to have, not just jumps and tumbling. They have to be well-rounded and do every part of the routine.” Coaches and athletes alike talked about the hours they spend practicing and working to hone their skills. Haley said that she often meets up with her collegiate teammates for additional practices, especially stunts and tumbling, and that many on her team continue to perfect their technique working with private coaches. A competitive cheerleader will also spend time in both cheer and tumbling classes. Shera commented that she strives for her athletes to, “find a balance between working hard, but not being overworked, so they still have time to be involved in their school.” She also pointed out that, “commitment plays a role and if they aren’t committed to a full year, it impacts the team; teaching the life lesson that if you start something, you finish it.” Both coaches stressed the importance of teamwork. Joni said, “The athlete must take their placement on the team seriously. This is not a sport with an ‘I’ in teamwork! They must always work together to accomplish their goals and hit their routines correctly.”

One key example of the role of teamwork in cheerleading is stunting. In order to stunt properly, a cheerleader must have a strong core, legs, and arms. It involves a mix of partner stunts comprising a flyer (the person in the air) and a base (the person holding them up) and group stunts, where multiple people serve as the base. Part of what makes stunts so spectacular is the ability of cheerleaders to build their strength and hone technique to simultaneously perform skills. Often, you see multiple stunt groups connected in the air by their flyers, or a flyer that changes groups in mid-air. Stunts like these are called pyramids. Pyramids are both amazing and dangerous. If the timing is off in the group, the chance of the stunt collapsing increases significantly. A​ ccording to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries, “female cheerleaders make up 50% of the catastrophic head, neck and spine injuries suffered, specifically by female athletes.” The NCCSIR conducted a 31 year study on all sports from 1982 to 2013 and found that in terms of catastrophic injury to female athletes, 64.2% of high school and 71.2% of collegiate level injuries were cheer related. ​FactRetriever.com ​even places cheerleading as the second most dangerous sport with football as number one, and the cheerleader at the top of the pyramid is ten times more likely to get a concussion than a football player. Like in other high-risk sports, cheerleaders enjoy pushing themselves to work hard and accomplish difficult tasks. Haley said,​ “Honestly, it’s taught me a lot about myself. It keeps me going, keeps me in shape, and just focused on life in general. After I tore my second ACL, it’s what pushed me to get better, through therapy and stuff because that was really hard for me, but I knew that I had to keep working to get back to cheer.” For local cheer mom Jamey Tice, her girls were active and high energy, so she really “wanted to give them something constructive to work towards.” Her girls love going to the gym. Her 12-year- old daughter, Jacey, said, “To be a good cheerleader, you have to be able to focus and always have a good attitude.” Jacey also said that some of her closest friends are from her cheer team, and that makes cheerleading a lot of fun. She added, “We spend a lot of time together and get to know each other’s likes and personalities,






and we all cheer in different ways.” When I asked little sister Jessa Tice what she would say to someone interested in cheerleading, she said that she would tell them, “Don’t be fearful. You can work hard and you can do it.” That might be one of the coolest things about cheerleading. Even though it is a lot of work and highly competitive, like Jessa, these athletes tend to be natural encouragers. Another key aspect of cheering involves jumps and tumbling. If you’ve never tried a toe-touch, one of the most quintessential cheer jumps, I encourage you to give it a shot. (Stretch really well first, though, I would hate for you to pull a muscle!) Cheerleaders dedicate a lot of

tuck. Jacey has perfected her aeriel and can incorporate it into other complicated tumbling passes. Dance and yelling (cheering) are also integral parts of cheerleading. Dance requires core strength, stamina, and flexibility. Both of the coaches I spoke to said that a large portion of practice is dedicated to simply running the routine over and over to increase stamina. They will run the routine and focus on a singular aspect, such as motions, and once that is “clean,” run the routine and focus on something different, like stunting, until the athletes are able to run the entire routine with no flaws. The parts of perfecting a routine are

time to jump and tumbling practices. This time includes stretching, strength training, and typically private coaching in order to understand and perfect technique. Tumbling passes frequently seen include everything from a back handspring to a full. A full is a tumbling pass where you make a full rotation of the body in the air while also flipping over backward. Hard to explain, even harder to do, but amazing to watch! When asked, both of the Tice girls said that tumbling was their favorite skill to work on. Jessa at just nine recently learned how to do a round-off back handspring back

knowing the skills, understanding how to count music, and being able to maintain your timing within the group. As for the actual cheering aspect, try yelling throughout your entire next workout and let me know how that goes. Finally, one of the most important aspects of cheer is trust. I feel certain there is a level of trust needed for almost all team sports, but I do not know that it can exceed the level of trust required in cheer. If you’re going to allow people to pick you up and throw you in the air, you have to trust they are going to catch you when you come back down. As a base, you must trust the flyer knows the timing of the routine and will come down in the correct position for catching and no matter what, the other bases will do their best to help you catch even when the dismount does not go as planned. A cohesive team means abounding trust, and as a result a high- level of bonding occurs. In my time as a cheerleader and even as I’ve watched the girls I have coached grow, I see so many of their friendships continuing, like many of my own friendships formed from my time as a cheerleader. When interviewing Cheyenne, she said, “My former teammates are most definitely an integral part of my life. I have built lifelong friendships with the girls I cheered with. Morning workouts, game days, events, practices—we lived and breathed cheer, and we did it by each other’s sides for many years! I have actually been friends with two of my cheer friends, Hailey Harris and Kaitlyn Kinder for 15 years. We have been through it all: competitive cheer, middle school, and high school cheer and stayed friends throughout college and we’re still going strong. They will even be my bridesmaids! I have 13 bridesmaids, eight of which were my teammates either in middle school, high school, or college, and it all started with cheer!” What do you think? Is cheerleading a sport? If you’re holding onto the idea that it can’t be a sport if it isn’t in the Olympics, consider the fact that ne​ ither is f​ootball, mixed martial arts, or cricket. Softball and baseball were only added in 2020. The next time you find yourself at an event where cheerleaders are performing, give them an extra minute of your attention. Appreciate the time, dedication, and skill it takes. ​Yell along with them when they lead a chant. These athletes put themselves in harm’s way for your entertainment; take the time to admire their dedication, skill, and athleticism.



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