Chicago-based acrobats soar into Janesville for Rock County 4-H Fair

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Elliot Hughes
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

JANESVILLE—With the show running 20 minutes late Wednesday, members of the Chicago Boyz Acrobatic Team decided they couldn't wait any longer.

Technical difficulties meant the highly regarded posse of tumblers, gymnasts and acrobats would have to make its debut at the Rock County 4-H Fair sans music. The six-man team in town for two shows a day through Saturday would have to keep the crowd clapping to a beat.

“All comes with the job,” said Carl McClinton, 22, who is perhaps the team's most aerodynamic performer.

And so they launched into a half-hour routine of high-altitude spins and flips. They jumped rope on all fours, on their backs and while simultaneously double-dutching. They soared with style over 10, 11, 12 people at a time.

“As long as the crowd is entertained and they enjoy the show, we've done our job,” McClinton said after the first show in Janesville, which drew about 100 people and a mob of kids begging for photos.

The Chicago Boyz are a professional gymnastics and acrobatics outfit from the Windy City. The troupe, which features adult and adolescent performers, was founded in 1999 by Tim Shaw, a Chicago native and alumni of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Schools, circuses, fairs, sports halftime shows, parties and corporate functions—the Chicago Boyz are liable to show up at any location. They were even semifinalists for the top crown on NBC's “America's Got Talent” show in 2013.

Shaw, who is in North Dakota now with another Chicago Boyz squad, said the team annually logs 100,000 miles on its two vehicles and performs 400 times all over the United States—with occasional trips to Europe, Asia and South America.

Shaw's program makes an effort to help disadvantaged youngsters navigate the rough, violent terrain that swallows up parts of Chicago. Members have to keep C averages in school and stay away from drugs, alcohol, tobacco and gangs.

McClinton and teammate Elijah Newbern, 22, both said they come from those tough Chicago neighborhoods. Newbern first tumbled with the team as a 5-year-old, while McClinton joined six years ago to get “back on the right path.”

Newbern, built like a running back, just returned after sustaining a broken tibia. McClinton, more than 6 feet tall and slender with dreadlocks, has dealt with concussions, broken toes and a fractured ankle.

“Nothing serious,” he said.

Their travel schedule means they regularly miss birthdays and holidays, but it's clear they're at home in the air. Without music during Wednesday's show, audience members could hear the excited laughter that came after each landed trick.

Both men said they plan on doing this for a while.

“This is my career,” Newbern said.

Shaw himself is from Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, one of the city's most troubled areas. He gives plenty of credit to the coaches he had in his youth for his position in life today.

Former Chicago Boyz have gone on to start their own gymnastics programs or have begun other careers after finishing college, Shaw said.

"Our motto is to be like a summer job, where we can teach them professionalism and work ethic and give them all that training for when they get out into the real world,” he said.

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