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Burman University Acronaires celebrate 50th anniversary

Dr. Loren Agrey, president of Burman University, poses with Ron Schafer, the Acronaires’ head coach and Burman’s director of physical education at the recent 50th-anniversary celebration. (Photo submitted)

The Burman University Acronaires have been showcasing their talents for half a century now, entertaining audiences locally and abroad.

The troupe hosted its 50th-anniversary celebration and reunion last month, and it was a time for both reflection and some riveting, action-packed performances on campus.

Ron Schafer, the Acronaires head coach and Burman’s director of physical education noted that while many things have changed on campus over the past 50 years, the love for gymnastics and acrobatics by young people remains strong.

“The team started in 1973/74,” he said, adding that the sport has a rich history amongst Seventh Day Adventist schools, stretching back to the early 1960s.

It quickly grew from there.

Schafer recalls when he was just six years old, a team from California visited Lacombe.

“I can remember that like it was one hour ago,” he said.

“I also remember thinking that someday I would be a part of that.”

And he was. Schafer completed his high school studies, wrapped up one year of post-secondary at Burman, and then headed to Andrew’s University in Michigan to finish up his degree.

While studying there, he joined the acrobatics team. A path and a career began to take shape.

“Within the Adventist school system in North America, almost every high school and college has a team like this,” he explained of the Acronaires. He also pointed out that in all his travels, he has never seen a team quite like the Acronaires, in terms of what they can deliver.

“It’s fast action, and there’s excitement. School kids love it. We never have trouble going to schools — they are always anxious to have us come and do a presentation for them.”

Meanwhile, this past school year saw 30 on the team.

And of the 50 years the Acronaires have been around, Schafer has been coach for 34. It’s still as compelling to him as it ever was, he noted.

“As a kid, I was mesmerized by what I saw — just the style of the sport. Stacking people up and doing all kinds of crazy stuff! I was intrigued by that.”

It also takes tremendous strength to pull off the seamless and intricate routines.

“Strength and balance are hugely important,” he said, adding that it also takes plenty of trust, as many routines could end with serious injuries if not carried out properly and carefully.

“When you have a sport where you are that closely connected to people physically, you also tend to have a lot of team spirit and camaraderie,” he said. “So that has been good — a very positive thing over the years. People feel like there is a family connection.”

Schafer joined the team when he was in Grade 10 — back in ‘74/74.

“I think one of the things about it that I enjoyed the most was always being able to go to the next level,” he explained. “You would see a skill or a trick that might be really difficult. You would try it, and see how hard it was, but then you could work hard to accomplish it,” he said.

“You push yourself to see how far you can go.”

During his years in Michigan, the team would practice for about three hours each evening.

“We toured extensively, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. One unforgettable moment came about during a trip to the Berlin Wall where team members did a three-high and the student at the top snapped a few photos of scenes on the other side.

Schafer also pointed out that the Acronaires team isn’t just for Burman students.

“We have 30 on our team, and probably at least eight or 10 of those aren’t students here. We’ve had several people from the community with us.”

No matter what, it takes commitment.

“This year, we’ve been practicing five nights a week — Sunday through Thursday,” he said.

And all of that dedication pays off in many ways, he said.

“They gain a tremendous sense of self-confidence — especially the kids who don’t like competitive sports. This sport allows you to be involved in a very physical activity with a lot of creativity. That is one thing about acrobatics, is that creativity is huge. And they also get to tour a lot.

“On our 40th anniversary, we went to Kenya which was a fabulous tour. We’ve also been to Belize, twice to Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, and twice to Jamaica. We’ve also been to Hawaii three times, and up to Yellowknife three times, too. We’ve been all across Canada. It’s very much a visual show.”

Meanwhile, there couldn’t be a more fitting post for Schafer.

“I just finished my 44th year here. It’s the only job I have ever had — I always tell people that I have the world’s shortest resume.”

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Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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