Rockdale County high school ninth-grade math teacher Kevin McKinney wants to let you in on a well kept secret: step teams aren't just for college students anymore and haven't been for a while now.
McKinney came to teach at Rockdale County two years ago and has been coaching the boys' step team since.
Last year, we had 18 members in the boys' team and this year we had 16. We design the steps and routine according to the numbers we have, McKinney said.
The step season begins in January with Cedar Grove High hosting the opening weekend the Saturday after the MLK holiday and runs through March.
Step teams perform at various events throughout the season and teams accrue points for placement among other teams. Teams must have their routines down to precise movements and last between 10-11 minutes in length. Any routine more than 11 minutes receives a penalty.
Step teams are scored in a variety of ways: creativity, themes, coordination, transitions, precision as well as the teams' customs.
Competitions are held in front a panel of seven judges and the low and high scores get thrown out.
"Just like any other club, there is a small fee to help cover the cost of expenses like fees to enter competitions, so we have member dues up front and try to do some additional fundraising throughout the year," McKinney said. "The teams' expenses like customs are mostly out of pocket, so I try to operate on a shoe-string budget."
McKinney said they make their own schedule and have traveled as far as Athens to perform and was even invited to perform in Orlando. McKinney said he has the boys perform where ever and whenever they can to accrue the required 40 points and also as a way to expose the step team to more people. RCHS has performed at pep rallies, events that held a Black History program and both football and basketball half time shows.
Stepping is well known on the collegiate level, but thanks to the popularity and influence of movies like "Drum Line" and "Stomp the Yard," stepping has caught the attention of a younger group of students. Step teams were more like clubs before it was formally organized for the younger students in Georgia about three years ago by the Georgia Steppers League.
High school stepping is gaining ground but believe it or not, there are step teams in middle schools and even elementary schools, McKinney said.
"Salem had a step team that was more of a club than an organized team but the schools within Rockdale that have official step teams that perform around at local events are Rockdale County High, Heritage High and Conyers Middle," McKinney said.
Rockdale's boys step team's motto is, "Show up. Show out. Shut it down." And that's exactly what they did on April 29.
"Rockdale was the only school that brought both boys and girls teams to the state finals. This is the second consecutive year for the boys to reach the state finals. They placed second last year but they beat out their rival school Southwest DeKalb and won first place this year," McKinney said. "One thing about stepping - on any given day, anybody can get beat, so you gotta bring your A-game."
RCHS has had a step team since 2007 and just like any other extracurricular activity, students must meet and maintain an academic standard and have at least a 2.5 GPA.
Southwest DeKalb is the gold standard that everybody tries to beat. Other schools that have competitive step teams include Riverdale High and Church Street Elementary in Clayton County, Dutchtown High in Henry County and many other schools in both Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.
McKinney stepped in college for three years and continued after college but he said, "Stepping is for everyone. Stepping is for any race. Anyone can learn it. It's a large time commitment but anyone can learn it."
Vernita Campbell coaches the girls' step team of approximately 14 girls and they placed third at the state finals. Campbell has been coaching the girls for the last three years.