New Castle native James “PeeWee” Thomas has gone from track star to cheer star and now superstar thanks to a Netflix series you have undoubtedly heard of, “CHEER,” and coming from a city like Pittsburgh gave him that hunger for success.
“It’s a city of champions, and all my life, I wanted to be a champion,” Thomas said. “It’s just like the city champions, you if you’re gonna live by it and be around and you better become one.”
Thomas certainly made himself a champion as the Navarro cheer team won the 2019 National Dance Alliance Collegiate National Championship title in Daytona, Florida.
What happened following that big win was way bigger than anyone thought. However it wasn’t beyond Thomas’ expectations.
When he left his track and cheer teams at Eastern Michigan University in fall 2018 to further pursue his cheering career at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, he told friends: “Next time you see me. I will be up in big lights. I don’t know how or where, but it will be with cheer, and I will be on the big lights.”
Then, Jan. 8 hit and The Netflix series that followed Navarro’s 2019 season was released. It was an instant success.
The team gained reaction from A-listers like Reese Witherspoon and JJ Watt and got them the invite to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” not once, but twice!
Thomas appeared on the show both times, admitting the second time was his favorite -- Rightly so because not only did he get more talk time with DeGeneres, he got to lift one of the biggest celebrities in the air: Kendall Jenner, which was an experience itself.
“The fact that we were fangirling over her and she was fangirling over us, it was just a big fan girl party!" Thomas laughed.
While many know him as James Thomas, he says the second he comes back to Pennsylvania, he returns as “PeeWee" and always makes a trip to where things began for him: Natalie’s Cheer and Tumble.
“My go-to place when I go home is literally Natalie’s. I go there to coach. I go there to practice what I want to. I go there to help her coach the team. I’ll go there just so I can eat!”
Thomas grew up in New Castle with three brothers but didn’t start cheering right away. He and his brothers played football and basketball in addition to track, but Thomas knew he wanted more that he found in cheering.
Thomas joked about being a mama’s boy, so he wanted her blessing first because he was nervous about what his dad would think. The two kept it on the down low when he joined Natalie’s until the first competition that was out of state.
That competition was all it took to get his dad on board, and Thomas says even his brothers find themselves saying, “I thought you were amazing back then, but like I’m looking at you now and you’re way better.”
In addition to Natalie’s, he cheered for the Union Area High School team and had some pre-Netflix fame as he stunned crowds with his roundoff, back handspring, tuck into a split landings.
“That was the one skill that people remember me by, the kid that lands in the split out to everything," he said. “And it just went to the point where everyone started to know who I was. They knew who PeeWee was.”
And now everyone knows PeeWee more than ever.
James has given cheer his full dedication.
He has tried out and made the Navarro cheer team -- led by their “queen” of a coach, Monica Aldama -- made mat, competed and won at Daytona his first year there, gained new stardom from “CHEER” and made mat again for his second year.
But, since since Navarro is a Junior College, what is next for James Thomas?
The first option is to come back to Navarro for his last year of eligibility, because you can cheer at a junior college for three years.
The second option to go to Texas Tech (which he has applied to).
His third option? Continue to grow his choreography business, which -- you heard it here first -- he is making even bigger goals for.
Since he has seen his name in lights already, the next thing he’s predicting is making his name known as a big choreographer. “Now when a year and a half y’all see my name, James Thomas, next best choreographer!”
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