Top Gun Celebrates 25 Years of CheerMADness
Victor and Kristen Rosario with daughters Jodi 16, and Demi, 18
Top Gun’s Victor and Kristen Rosario have the rare, if not singular, distinction of experiencing Worlds as athletes, teammates, coaches, gym owners and parents.
Celebrating the gym's 25th anniversary this season, Victor says “it’s rewarding to be where we need to be. The best part is the good times we have with our kids.”
What started out as what Kristen refers to as a “past-time thing while we were in college,” with a total of 26 Worlds medals (11 Gold/7 Silver/8 Bronze) Top Gun is one of the best programs in the world. This year they are sending eight teams to Worlds and 35 to Summit.
But as impressive as bids and medals are, Top Gun has established itself as the cutting edge gym with iconic routines, unexpected uniforms, skills that they invented and moves that have never been seen before.
That’s Top Gun.
“Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs in 25 years,” says Kristen. “I always say ‘We don’t fight about what most married couples fight about-the kids, house, education for our kids and finances; those things, we’re on the same page.' Our marriage is the most amazing part of our relationship.”
“Cheerleading is the only thing we fight about,” she said.
Victor and Kristen met in school when both cheered for South Miami Sr. High. She was a sophomore in her first year of cheer; he a senior. He went on to cheer at Florida International University and in the summer to NCA camps. In 1992, he competed in the first of two “Top Gun” competitions at a college camp in Tennessee that determined who had the best jumps, tumbling and stunting-Victor won two years in a row and was named an NCA All American.
“The name 'Top Gun' kind of stuck with me,” he said. “I loved what the name stands for.”
Meanwhile Kristen joined Victor at FIU where she majored in dance and minored in accounting because her dream was to open her own dance studio. Both skill sets have helped make Top Gun the force it is.
“Kristen has the technique, she’s the perfectionist ” Victor said. “That's what worked for us right from the start: she is the organization’s mastermind, I was the creative person and we both coached.”
Top Gun TGLC NCA 2019 Day 2
Their first team was a large coed with 10 guys and 10 girls. They became teammate again when they competed at the very first Worlds where they won the large coed division. Defending their championship, the next year they won, having one of the rare distinctions of earning back-to-back globes.
“At 17, 18 years old, we were lugging our cassette (tape) deck, booking our flights, finding places to practice,” Victor remembers. “On Saturdays we practiced at Tropical Park in Miami and on Sundays we’d go to Miami Lakes Park. I joke that we were the first program to have multi-locations."
Today Top Gun has gyms in Ohio, Arizona and at several locations in Florida.
Kristen talks about other memories.
“What stands out for me are the years we started out with one or two teams that became six teams, and in ten years, they had doubled to 12 teams. I felt the magnitude of when we opened our first 'new' location and we were able to pay our bills.
"This year we purchased our own building,” she says. “I can see that we can retire one day, doing something that we love.”
Top Gun Fun Facts:
-Rather than creating it, Victor says Top Guns’ iconic mascot “Jags” chose them.
“Our first year, we were focusing on the routines and about a week before our first competition, we realized we didn’t have uniforms. We borrowed them from a friend who was a local coach. Their colors were black, gold and white and their mascot was “Jags.” We never switched.”
Just as in cheer, there have been bumps and bruises along the way.
“The second year the gym opened, I was real pregnant with Demi, our first daughter so (when she was born) I wanted to spend time with her. For (her) whole first year, I really got to be a stay-at-home mom."
Near the end of that year, Kristen found out that the gym was $20,000 in the red and didn’t have enough money to pay for the season’s final comp’s hotel balance. Kristen says she never figured out how it happened but says the woman who helped out in her absence mismanaged accounts like never charging athletes for some things.
“I learned a huge lesson early on-nobody takes care of your business like you do,” Kristen says.
Taking a $20,000 inheritance from her grandfather that was intended for their children’s education, they paid the money that was due for the hotel.
“It felt like we were taking away our kids future, but then if we didn’t finish the season for the gym, there wouldn’t be any future. Victor said ‘If I have to work privates, I will. I’ll do whatever it takes.’”
It didn’t come to that because the competition came with a $20,000 prize for the highest scoring team and Top Gun won it.
“When they awarded us that big fake check on stage, Victor and I just hugged each other. That money saved our kids future, the gym’s future. Everybody watching must have thought we were over the top but no one else knew what that meant to us. No one understands the struggles we go through.”
In addition to the challenges of being gym owners and coaches, Victor and Kristen also had the added responsibilities of being CheerMADs.
Because as the gym grew, so did their two daughters.
Demi and Jodi watched as their parents developed one of the best programs in the world, but it didn’t come without sacrifices.
“When they were little, I would be in Mommy Mode. We always made sure that one of us would be with our daughters when they competed, and one would be with the team,” Kristen said.
That worked out well, until Worlds when 12-year old Demi was preparing to compete with Lady Jags and her parents realized that they each needed to go with other teams.
“I was panicking but Demi took my hands and said, ‘Go get ready,’” Kristen recalled. “Neither one of us was there to see her win her first Worlds gold medal.”
More than Worlds champion athletes, coaches or program owners, the Rosarios are strict parents and say the best complement they can receive is when someone tells them that they have good kids.
Pointing out that their daughters weren’t allowed to go on social media until Demi was 15 and Jodi was 13, Kristen says “We’ve always been very protective of them and tried to shelter them from some of the stuff that can go around in cheer.
“We never wanted them to go into cheer and part of that is we knew they would be held to a higher standard,” Kristen continued. “But they’ve risen to the occasion and have become role models. We’ve taught them to be humble and grateful; neither Victor nor I grew up with what they have. Outside of cheer they are just regular kids."
Asked to reflect upon the last 25 years, Victor takes a pause, then says, “After being in the industry for so long, I look back and there are so many milestones that have evolved and grown cheer. I feel like I’ll have left it way better than if I wasn’t involved.
“The reason we are what we are is, we figured it out a long time ago: decide for yourself what it means to be successful,” he continued.
"I came from the South Bronx, my mom was divorced and worked three jobs to put food on the table. Now, I’m fortunate that I can afford nice cars but I don’t own the best because I’d rather sponsor two kids than own the best car."
“I define success as being a mentor to kids but that’s not something you see the results of right away," he continued. "After 25 years, I’m seeing that now, as those kids have become 18, in their 20s and even in their 40s. "
"And while I was at it, I made something out of me," Victor said.
"What we define as successful has never been about money. Most people don’t know what success is but we are content in our success."