Updated: August 27, 2013 1:27PM
Not just another group of inner-city tumblers, the Chicago Boyz are nothing short of exhilarating in their pursuits.
The young acrobats fearlessly flip off trampolines. They execute stunts inside of jump ropes.
Witnessing teenagers somersault above Martavius Owten, held by his teammates and swung in circles, often makes jaws drop.
“He’s not the first human jump rope,” coach Tim Shaw noted of his 9-year-old nephew. “He’s just one of the cutest.”
Shaw and his troupe of tumblers reached new heights this summer when they landed a spot onstage with “America’s Got Talent.”
The team now is one of 20 acts in the running for a $1 million grand prize from NBC’s hit talent show.
Shaw, a former professional acrobat for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, formed the team in 1999 to provide at-risk youth a detour to running the streets.
“I took the basic principles of education and discipline,” he said. “I knew the main component was to lead by example.”
Today his 25-member crew practices at a Chicago Park District facility on the city’s Far South Side. To earn a place on the team, tumblers must keep a “C” average in school and avoid gangs and drugs.
At 34 years old, Shaw is considered a father figure to many of the boys and young men who grew up in neighborhoods riddled by violence.
“He saved a lot of us — in fact, he saved all of us that are here today,” Andre Williams said in an “America’s Got Talent” interview during the team’s audition in the spring.
Two weeks ago in New York City, the Chicago Boyz’ high-energy, power-packed performance at Radio City Music Hall elicited a rare standing ovation from the show’s panel of celebrity judges — as well as a nod to move on to the semi-finals.
Whether they win it all or not, Shaw has his eyes on another prize for the youth.
“This isn’t about acrobatics at all,” he said. “This is about making [each of] them a better person.”
Natasha Wasinski is a local free-lance writer.