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Sprite Step Off brings passion and philanthropy to Columbia

Saturday, October 3, 2009 | 10:17 p.m. CDT; updated 11:58 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 3, 2009
The Mid-Missouri Highsteppers performed live at the Sprite Step Off Competition on Saturday in the Hearnes Center. The young steppers celebrated their 30th anniversary by performing in front of a crowd of at least 1,000.

COLUMBIA – Stepping and service were the name of the game Saturday when the competitors in the Sprite Step Off regional semifinal showed off their routines and their philanthropy at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia.

The men of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity of the St. Louis regional area and from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, along with the women of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority from SIUE, the Alpha Theta Omega Christian Sorority and Zeta Phi Beta, both from MU, spent time with more than 60 children and teenagers who came to the organization, which is usually not open on weekends.

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The step competitors arrived in a limo, and the children were incredibly excited.

Deronne Wilson, the unit director at the Boys and Girls Club, said the Step Off benefited the children by giving them direct interaction with the steppers. The competitors also presented the Club with a check for $4,500.

The Club usually has 85 to 90 kids on weekdays anywhere from six to 18 years old who arrive at the Club after school.

The bitingly cold service day started off when Wilson rounded up all the children from playing football and table soccer with the steppers to go outside to the basketball courts behind the building. The Alpha Phi Alpha steppers put on quite the show with their stomps, claps and precise routines that excited the children almost as much as the steppers’ arrival in a white limo earlier that morning.

Kim Poma, the project manager for the Sprite Step Off Service Challenge, made announcements over her megaphone directing the children into groups where they learned simple, 16-count routines from the steppers and later talked with the steppers about their hopes for future careers, colleges and Greek life.

“We want them to be involved in any service activity that promotes education,” Poma said of the community service required of Step Off participants.

Samantha Robinson, 32, is the mother of Shania, 10, and Sheante Hayes, 14, both of whom learned the basics of stepping from some of the Step Off competitors. Robinson said she got Sheante involved with the Boys and Girls Club seven years ago when former representatives from the organization were going door-to-door to sign up local children. She said she loves the experience her daughters have had while interacting with university students.

Rucell Douglas, 27, was also watching her son, Xavier, 7, from the sidelines of the outdoor basketball court as he kept up with some of the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

“I would love to see them come back and teach them other things too,” she said.

Cynthia Colon, 21, Whitney McMurray, 23, and Nikirra Peoples, 20, of Sigma Gamma Rho, spoke about their experience talking to the children in small groups.

“The kids are the future,” Colon said of their conversation. “We wanted to help them out.”

Adam Guy, the account relationship director at the Boys and Girls Club headquarters in Atlanta, said the club has had a 60-year partnership with Coca-Cola Co., and the event is perfect for the values that the Boys and Girls Club encourages.

“This is a really great opportunity for promoting a healthy life, education and community service in kids,” he said.

Guy also said the Step Off has a goal to reach 1.5 million hours of service by the time the tour ends with the Atlanta finals in January.

The three women from Sigma Gamma Rho sat with a younger group of children and talked to them about their aspirations to become journalists, doctors, lawyers and one child who said he wanted to be “everything.” The children also expressed their passion for going to college and asked numerous questions about Greek life.

“Stepping is about discipline,” Poma told the kids as the event ended. “It’s about passion and bringing love and energy into everything you do. Carry those lessons with you."

The fraternity and sorority members put Poma’s words into action Saturday night as they performed alongside the Mid-Missouri Highsteppers and MU’s Outer Limits. The women of Sigma Gamma Rho kicked off the evening, followed by Zeta Phi Beta and Alpha Theta Omega Christian Sorority. Each group told a story about its Greek organization, including the date of founding and its individual missions.

The Mid-Missouri Highsteppers received a standing ovation for their powerful routines involving a 34-member group, as did the men of Alpha Phi Alpha’s St. Louis and SIUE chapters, who came in first and second place. The women of Alpha Theta Omega placed third.

Big Boi of Outkast headlined the event after the winners of the semifinals were announced, and he expressed his enthusiasm for the mission of the event and the benefits of stepping.

“Stepping is about unity and team effort,” he said. “You’re working to build something that you want. Pursue your goals. Study your craft and be the best at it that you can be. That’s what I’m here to promote.”


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