A step team from Uncommon Schools North Star Academy Clinton Hill Middle School in Newark finished third in a national step contest this weekend in Atlanta.
Da Boyz Step Team took home the third place trophy in the National Step League's Break The Stage National Championships.
The team was one of only 20 to qualify for the national competition out of hundreds nationwide. To qualify, the team won their regional competition, defeating eight teams that were selected to compete at regionals.
It was the first time a team from North Star ever competed in the national competition.
"We knew we did well but didn’t know how well," said Kyle Steele, the coach of the team and a physical education teacher. "We knew it was our first time at nationals and a lot of the other teams had been down and knew how the scoring would be and what to expect.
Steele said he was proud when he heard Da Boyz were announced as top finishers.
"It was a long hard journey and we have a young team with only one eighth grader so this will definitely help them moving forward," Steele said.
For those unfamiliar, step is a form of dance using footsteps, spoken word and handclaps in synchronicity. Teams are judged on precision, creativity and appearance.
The team at Clinton Hill was started in 2009 and consists of students in grades five through 8. The students typically practice twice a week for an hour at a time.
"The hardest part about teaching step is that the whole team has to know the show at the same level of excellence for the show to be a success even though students learn at different paces and because of our academic rigor we don’t often have our whole team at practice at the same time," Steele said.
The value of stepping, Steele said, is that it has components of team work and discipline that enables students to display leadership and teamwork traits.
"Like with most competitive situations it allows our students to set goals and try to accomplish them," he said. "The competitions also allow our students to meet other students from different regions who are also student-steppers."
Steele said that academically strong students make great steppers.
"With step practice there is a lot of following directions and working as a team," he said. "The discipline needed often helps our students improve their grades. It also provides a motivation for the students who need it, we only let students who are in good academic standings participate, so a student who is behind in his coursework would have to miss practice and potentially miss the show."
For most members of the team, it was their first trip to Atlanta.
"Most of team never had the pleasure of little things like eating at certain restaurants, touring Morehouse College or viewing the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial," Steele said. "Also, they got a chance to travel away from home together with their team and form even stronger bonds."
Steele said since only one eighth grader was on the team, the boys are already talking about their return to the national competition next year.
"They already expressed wanting to practice harder or display a work ethic that can get them better results," Steele said. "I think they truly understand why they work so hard now and that if they continue to do so, they will see the results."
The team consisted of: Jaden Simon, Justin Apponte, Jermaine Mattocks, Andrew Hughes, David Tornyenyor, Daniel Tornyenyor, Thernio Jalloh, Jonathan Callender, Price Baye Mbock, Rashad Jenkins, Riches AAfolabi, Markel Simon, Corey Walters, Nasir Baker, Emmanuel Damptey, Steven Hauser, Naszir Lassiter.