Age Is Just A Number!

How Steph Bell is proving her doubters wrong.

By Ashlee Buhler

Alma Stephany Bell isn’t your typical cheerleader. 

Best known as Steph by the cheer community and of course her adoring group of “Baddies” – Steph Bell is pushing back on the narrative that cheerleading is a sport just for kids and teens. 

After packing away her soccer cleats at the age of 31, Steph decided it was time for a completely different adventure: cheerleading. She went to her first tryout at the age of 31 and never looked back. Over the last three years she has documented her cheer journey on social media, amassing thousands of followers and views along the way. At first, posting videos online was merely a way to track her own progress, but it has since led her to become a beacon of light and source of inspiration for those who are learning the sport for the first time along with her. 

Steph, now 34, is by far the oldest cheerleader on her All Star team Top Gun Genesis, where she’s currently an alternate flyer. She’s also easily a decade older than anyone on her team at East Florida State College where she’s gearing up to compete in Daytona at the upcoming NCA College Nationals. “I’m so excited to be able to show the world what I’ve learned and compete with my team,” she mused. 

But when you’re doing what you love, age is nothing but a number!

Fueled by the people who have doubted her and being coined the “bad flyer” online, Steph clapped back by launching her own apparel company BadFlyer. The focus of her brand is fostering a positive environment for athletes of all ages (she calls her community Baddies) and standing up to people who leave hateful comments online. As a mother and athlete, her biggest hope is to make the sport a positive place for everyone.  

In this phase of life, Steph has proudly taken on the role of athlete, student, wife, mother, businesswoman and mentor – and she’s having the time of her life doing it! Never in a million years did she imagine her reach would become as big as it has. Never in a million years did she think she would even be a cheerleader, let alone having two daughters and a husband in the sport along with her. (Fun fact: Steph’s husband Patrick is a retired marine who was awarded a Purple Heart after serving in Afghanistan. He is on the coed team at East Florida State College, while Steph is on all-girl.) However, she’s embracing every step of the journey and proving that it’s never too late to follow your heart and have fun!

Tell us how you and cheerleading came to be! How did you get introduced to the sport?  

My daughter started cheering at the age of 4 and she was on the Tiny Novas team. I happened to be at a competition where they had a parent team that was doing an exhibition and I thought it was the coolest thing. At the moment I was going through a little bit of a depression, I was lost as a mom and wife. I felt like I needed something for myself and I saw that and thought it was the coolest thing. I tried to get other parents to do it with me but it ended up not working out. Right around that time people were getting ready for tryouts and my niece told me I would never be able to do it. So I was like, ‘Alright let’s try it!’ 

What was your very first tryout like? 

Coastal Elite was my first gym. I unfortunately didn’t finish a season there. I was there for maybe three months. I went to try out and the coach was like, ‘Have you ever cheered before?’ And I’m sitting there with no experience at all like, ‘No!’ He asked me if I had any tumbling, which I don’t, and I had no flexibility either at this point. He was like, ‘Well you’re really tiny, so we’ll give it a try as a flyer’ and he put me up on a prep that same day and that’s how we started flying! I had never flown or stunted. I went in and didn’t know exactly what to expect but I knew I wanted to cheer, so I was open to whatever he needed me to do and he started me flying on the very first day! We did a small exhibition competition on the east coast but we didn’t really compete against anybody. The following year I went to Elite Allstars and I competed with Anarchy for the whole season. 

How did you wind up at Top Gun?

I didn’t actually know what Top Gun was, so when I finished Coastal, the following season I went to Top Gun. Someone told me they had an open team and that I should try it. I went in there having only been at Coastal for three months and I got cut the first day. Then I ended up at Elite Allstars, did a whole season, and then came back to try out for Top Gun the following year and I made the team! (2022-23 season) 

Did you ever have any doubts through the tryout process, especially being so new to the sport? 

I had so many doubts! I was so nervous and completely intimidated. The first time I tried out for Top Gun, the first thing they asked of me was to pull body positions up in the air and I had no body positions. I remember pulling my heel stretch all wrong, it was so low. They asked me if I had a needle or anything like that and I pulled a scale with a different arm, it was so embarrassing! But then I tried out the year after and Adrian Butler himself sent me an email saying he was impressed by how much I had gained in just a year. They saw how much work I had put in! Coming back I feel I proved a lot about my character and my willingness to learn. 

What has been the most difficult part about learning the sport? 

I feel like the mental aspect of it and the mental health aspect; constantly comparing myself. I’ve only been doing this for three years and I am at one of the best gyms in the country, so I’m competing against people who have been cheering for 15 years or more, so I feel like comparing myself to the younger athletes and the athletes who have been doing this sport for so long is one of my biggest challenges. I try to give myself grace to learn.

Speaking of learning, who are some of the people who have helped you learn? 

First of all, my friends Ben Parker and Kirsten Adessa. They literally went to every open gym last year with me and taught me mostly everything that I have learned. The first person who gave me a shot was coach Dakota Landon from Elite Allstars. Adrian Butler gave me the opportunity to be a Top Gun Worlds athlete! I feel like without people believing in me and having the time to teach me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I spend five to seven days at the gym practicing stunts, so there are so many people I could thank! 

Although you haven’t been doing the sport for that long, do you kind of see yourself as a role model or leader for your team? 

I feel like I bring knowledge and life experience, as well as a unique maturity to the team! 

In addition to All Star, you’ve joined the team at East Florida State College! How did that come about?

One of my teammates cheers there and they were having a clinic. The coaches had seen some of my journey, so they invited me to the clinic. It happened to be the week after I was told I was going to be an alternate at Top Gun, so I was in a dark place. I went to the clinic and everything just clicked. The team was very welcoming, the coaches were amazing and after I finished the clinic they asked me to stay, so I ended up committing to the team right then and there! 

You have a lot on your plate with being a mom, a college student, and an athlete! What is a typical day in your life like?

I wake up and get the girls ready for school. The mornings are pretty open, I do work on my business BadFlyer in the morning and then as soon as the girls get home from school, which is around 3 p.m., we get them ready for practice. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have college cheer while my little one has Top Gun, so my mother-in-law takes her there and my husband and I go to college cheer. Then Tuesday and Thursdays I’m at Top Gun from 6 to 10 pm. 

Are you responsible for getting your husband into cheer too?!

He has come to every single practice, every single competition I have ever gone to. I was like, ‘Come on, let’s try it! I know you can do it!’ He has studied the sport so much with me and his girls being in it. I was like, ‘Now it’s your turn!’ So we went and tried out and he made the coed team. At that point they gave me the option to go coed or all-girl and I decided to go all-girl so he could kind of have his journey without me. 

What do your kids think about mom and dad cheering? 

Oh they think it’s the coolest thing! Makayla always goes around and says, ‘I’m Steph Bell’s daughter!’ She thinks it’s the coolest thing, especially when we’re at competitions and it gets so crazy. I’ve never experienced something like that. We went to CheerSport and I couldn’t walk five steps without somebody recognizing me or taking a picture, so it’s something that’s completely amazing and I never thought would happen. No Limit Sportswear asked me to do a meet and greet with them and I’m like, ‘Are you sure? I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of people there.’ I ended up doing it at All Star Worlds and there was over a two hour line there, so it’s completely surreal everything that is happening! I’m living a dream right now! 

Tell me about your company BadFlyer and the motivation behind it.

BadFlyer started from a very dark place when I first started cheering. I just posted on my TikTok and I wasn’t thinking about blowing up or having a lot of followers. I wanted to post for myself and see how I was progressing. My TikTok started getting a lot of views and cheer Twitter kind of got involved and there was a lot of hate coming towards me and how bad I was a “bad flyer.” It was a very hard time but I felt like if that was happening to me – I was 32 at the time – then it has to be happening to children and teenagers. I wanted to create something that stood up against those people because I feel like it’s always anonymous people, it’s never to your face. So I wanted to stand up and say everyone starts somewhere. I may be a bad flyer right now, but I’m going to work my butt off to be a baddie. I started a community against bullying and now we have over 300 ambassadors. We have group chats and if anybody is going through anything we all kind of pitch in and help them. I feel like we are just building a community where we lift each other up. I wanted to take “bad flyer” and kind of flip it and now my ambassards call each other baddies without us telling them. It’s been an amazing journey to see the company grow and see what it’s bringing to kids. I receive messages all the time saying, ‘I quit cheer and I came back because I saw your journey’ or ‘My daughter was going through the same thing and seeing your journey changed her outlook.’ Beyond anything, that is what brings me happiness and makes everything I’m doing worth it. 

What are your future goals for the company? 

Right now we have apparel. I want to start doing clinics and travel across the United States, bringing awareness to the bullying in our sport and how parents can help. I see both sides. This year my older daughter was bullied, so I’ve seen it from an athletes point of view and a parents point of view, so I definitely want to expand the business to bring awareness and how we as parents and coaches can help. 

Did posting online ever become discouraging to you? 

I go through it all the time, where I feel like, ‘Is it worth it?’ But then I get that message that’s like ‘This one video made such a difference to me.’ I do get people here and there who don’t like the fact that I’m posting or that I’m getting followers or views, so I do get hate, but I feel like if one video makes a difference to a child or parents’ life, then at the end of the day, it’s worth it. I have a beautiful home and beautiful family and what people say on the internet is temporary. I try to tell myself if everything goes away, I still have my family, my life and my health. Even though it gets discouraging sometimes, I don’t think I’ll stop posting. 

What are your biggest goals in the sport? 

Obviously winning a World title. That is one of them, but more so building a bigger community and changing the view of the sport. Cheering each other on and supporting people that are coming to the sport late and not discouraging them. Maybe someday I will own my own gym, that’s a big dream of mine too! 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in the sport but is afraid? 

Do it! It’s never too late to learn something new or grow in something. As we get older we think that it’s too late, but my parents never had the money to spend on All Star cheer, so even if I knew about it, I didn’t have the opportunities that I have now. I feel like when we get older it is good to try that thing that you wanted to do when you were a little kid but didn’t have the opportunity to. Now is your time! Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t or it’s too late because here I am three years in and I’m having the time of my life! 

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