– by David Schleck
The Harlem Globetrotters are known for their sharp moves, but so is the step team at Parkway Elementary.
These steppers shout “Five! Six! Seven! Eight!” and then get moving with the precision of professional athletes. They practice twice a week to perform at holiday parades in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, along with events at their school and at Mount Trashmore.
Their leader is Marica Mills, the school’s office associate and step team/drumline sponsor who spent her teenage years as a flag girl with the marching band at Cox High School.
“I’ve been doing this 17 years,” she says. And she’s seen students go on to excel in high school and in their careers, including at least one doctor.
“They started right here at Parkway,” she says.
“What’s our motto?” she asks her 19 steppers, who range from first to fifth grade.
“Academics before activities,” they answer.
“And what else do we believe,” she asks. “What happens when one of us fails?”
“We all fail,” they answer.
This past winter was an exciting time as the team prepared for their biggest stage yet — Chartway Arena at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, where Mills sold more than 170 tickets to the March 26 performance of The Harlem Globetrotters.
At halftime, the step team took the court and performed a four-minute routine they’d been practicing for months.
“I like to try new things,” one stepper said. “Sometimes it’s difficult. But I get to learn new moves, and that’s fun.”
Two of the Globetrotters stopped by before the game to take photos with the step team members, who were amazed at their height. Before halftime, the steppers lined up outside one of the arena’s tunnels for last-minute instructions from Mills.
“Remember, timing is everything,” she told them. “Make sure your shoes are tied.”
An announcer asked the crowd to welcome the Parkway Elementary School step team, who walked onto the basketball court in single file. They wowed their audience with their synchronized claps, steps and shoutouts. As a finale, some steppers did cartwheels and flips, garnering even more applause.
“You did it!” Mills told the team when they were done. When walking back to their seats, audience members thanked them for the performance, and one of the stepper’s younger sisters held a sign that read, “Go Evey!”
Mills says during practices she’s clear about her expectations of the team. Costumes must be tidy and uniform, displaying the school colors of red and white.
“It teaches them not only self-pride but school pride,” Mills said. “I hold them to high standards.”
The member of the step team are Chloe Baer, Arielle Collins, Francesca Collins, Dasia Copeland, Bailee Crouch, Raymoni Davis, Tene Davis, Bethel Jiru, Chevelle Mims, Lyric Montgomery, Julia O’Roake, Sophia Ortiz-Vanegas, Arionna Price, Evelyn Salas, Kristine Sarmiento, Malaya Sinclair, Camilla Tayoto, Malaysia Underdown and alumni stepper Meklit Jiru.