By Ryan Jackson
Every year the Acro-Airs spend their spring break vigorously touring the country, performing and sharing their anti-drug and alcohol and healthy living lifestyle message. This year, the team took their show and message to the Dominican Republic, were they spent twelve days, performing 12 shows, for over 65,000 people. The Dominican Republic is a country plagued with alcohol and drugs, the country’s two biggest incomes are baseball and drugs, so the team had their work cut out.
The team’s first full day in the Dominican Republic was spent at the Government offices where representatives from the Ministry of Sports, Education and Drug Enforcement greeted them. The team then traveled to a local news station in Santo Domingo where Head Coach Benjamin Johnson, and Washington Adventist University Enrollment Counselor, Vladymir Corea were interviewed about the team and the week ahead while different team members showcased moves. After the interviews the team spent time practicing at the Dominican Republic's Official Gymnastics stadium, the location for the 2003 Pan American games. 7 year team member Wedmark Desir said about the site, "Arguably some of the best facilities I have ever practiced in outside the U.S. It was an honor being in the same place as the professional gymnasts who performed there."
The show officially began on Friday, March 4, when the team performed for over 700 Dominican police, transit authorities, and the general's representatives at the Parque Olimpico, Centro de Volibol (National Volleyball Stadium). The venue was also used again on Saturday night to host a show for the Adventist Community in Santo Domingo. For both shows, the team was cheered on by constant thunderous applause and chants for more.
On Sunday morning, March 6, the team performed a show at the Universidad Adventista de Banoa, where the team stayed during their duration in the country. Students, teachers and other spectators who managed to make their way on campus for the show were impressed by the skill and execution the team portrayed. That evening, the team traveled to the city of Santiago, where the biggest Basketball Stadium in the Dominican Republic is located. The team was the highlight performance between basketball games that took place that evening. "It's been a few years since the team has done a professional halftime show" said Zaneta White-Haliburton, "for a lot of the team it was a new experience, and a good one."
The next day, the team traveled back to the same arena to perform for schools in the Santiago area. Again, the crowd cheered excitedly, wanting more from the Acro-Airs and enjoying every second of the show. After another successful show in Santiago, the team loaded their buses and vans, provided by the government with policemen assigned as drivers, and headed to the town of Puerto Plata, the Silver Port. The catch phrase used to promote the Acro-Airs anti-drug message was "No A Las Drogas" (No To Drugs). At the show, the message was spread in three languages: English, Spanish, and Sign language.
Tuesday the team traveled to the town of La Vega to perform for the schools in the area. The arena that was the site of the performance had not been used in years. It had been so long since the last use that all of the electricity had been turned off. After calls were made to the government to have permission to turn the electricity back on, the show continued as normal.
The next two days consisted of both clinics and shows for the Acro-Airs. On Wednesday, the clinic took place for Adventist teachers at the University in Bonao, who was hosting a university day’s event for Adventist schools. Johnson, with Corea translating, and demonstrations from some team members, went through the fundamental basics to the sport of Acro. In the afternoon, with a crowd of Adventist students and teachers, the team performed parts of their routine. On Thursday, the team trekked back to the capital, Santo Domingo and performed a show in the morning for local public schools. The afternoon was spent again putting on a press conference and a clinic for teachers.
Friday the longest trip was made to the city of La Romana. A teacher's strike in the public school systems meant that the show would only be performed with private schools in attendance. Still, the stadium filled by the start of the show, and everyone in attendance enjoyed the high flying, fast paced skill of the acro-airs.
On Saturday afternoon, the team visited a local orphanage in Bonoa. Some of the children had prepared a musical number to play for the team and then were eager to watch as the team demonstrated some of the moves they do. The next hour was spent mingling and playing with the children, before heading off to Santiago for one last show. The team's final show was back at the basketball stadium in Santiago for the Adventist community in the city. One last time the stands filled up, and for one last time the team spread the message of "No A Las Drogas" through their show.
The effects of the Dominican Republic tour are still felt to this day. Many team members still receive facebook friend requests from people who recognize them from shows. While down there the team was given a special plaque from the Ministry of Sports, recognizing the team for their outstanding athletic ability and their push for a drug free life. The Adventist University in Bonoa was so impressed that they now are hoping the team can come back and help start an acro-team there. The Acro-Airs will long be remembered in the Dominican Republic along with their message "NO A LAS DROGAS!"