GARY — When Tami Reynolds was 4 years old she saw a majorette leading a parade and told her mom, "That's what I want to do."
Reynolds began baton lessons the following week and would eventually become a twirler at Calumet High School. One of her best memories while growing up and twirling was traveling to contests.
As an adult, Reynolds wanted to give kids that same experience, and for the past 17 years, the founder, director and choreographer of the Steel City Superstars has done exactly that while consistently bringing national titles home to Gary.
"Good stuff does come from Gary," Reynolds said.
Reynolds, a teacher at Lighthouse Charter School in Gary, has been coaching for more than 35 years and founded the Brunswick Twirlers, which evolved into the Steel City Superstars. The group is starting its 18th season.
This year has started out with 57 kids on 17 teams that perform facets like baton twirling, double dutch, single jump rope, pom poms and stepping, which was depicted in the 2007 film "Stomp the Yard."
The Superstars practice at Lighthouse Charter 12 hours a week and one nine-hour Saturday a month. The season runs like the school year with nationals held the second week in July in Canton, Ohio.
"We have 28 national titles and two grand champion titles," Reynolds said. "In local, state and regional competitions we have been undefeated for the past 10 years."
Reynolds said the Superstars are the only African-American competition team on the circuit.
"The goal is to get these kids noticed," she said. "Kids can win college scholarships for this."
The Superstars have performed at Walt Disney World and Niagara Falls, which is where it takes a post-nationals vacation together.
"It's very cool," Reynolds said.
The Superstars include Andy Roscoe, 9, who is in her second year on the team. She found out about the Superstars from her brother, who saw a performance.
"It's fun," Andy said.
Lorean Williams, 11, is a first-year Superstar.
"It seemed so cool so I decided to join," she said.
There is only one boy on the team and that is Kayden Nelson, 10. He got involved after seeing girls doing the double dutch and jumped in and "thought is was fun."
"I like when it is hard to do stuff," he said. "You are nervous at the competition, but you do so great when you're nervous."
Reynolds said she continues to enjoy coaching after all these years because of the "a-ha moment" when a student goes from "I don't know how to do this" to a national competition.
"Then they win a 4-foot trophy and their jaws hit the floor," she said.