Exclusive: Gari McIntyre aka Coach G Talks Step

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Exclusive: Gari McIntyre aka Coach G Talks Step
Posted by Dominga Martin

August 16, 2017

Each One Teach One

How one coach walked a mile in her student’s shows, in order to show them how to step up their game.  Meet Gari McIntyre aka Coach G, the straight no chaser coach from the award winning film, STEP.

STEP is the true-life story of a girls’ high-school step team set against the background of the heart of Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.

This all female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so. Deeply insightful and emotionally inspiring, STEP embodies the true meaning of sisterhood through a story of courageous young women worth cheering for

They call themselves “The Lethal Ladies” and although they are a squad, documentarian Amanda Lipitz focused on three young ladies (Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon), who she knew since they were 11 years old.

Coach G, steps on the scene in the Sundance Award winning documentary film “STEP”, all action.  Her goal: To show a group of ten girls, who are the first to attend the Baltimore Leadership School for Women how to compete in not just a step completion, but how to make it in life.

Together, with the help of mentors, these young women apply social political context to their performances, as they are directly effected by a climate in which Freddie Gray still traumatically effects their community.

They are all trying to rise above it all, and step is not just their creative outlet, but their answer to what is pulling at them emotionally.  Coach G gives us a bit of insight on how she became the coach wth the most, and how challenging her job can be.

When you’re dealing with these girls as the coach, what is your biggest challenge?

Coach G: My biggest challenge was the fact that it was my first time coaching.  So, in the movie when you all met me, that’s when they first met me.  It’s when Amanda (Director) first met me.  The whole staff, so…they didn’t know me from atom and I decided, I wanted to mentor a few months ago and I didn’t know what was going to be the thing that draws youth in [and] my sorority sister recommended me for this position.  I literally prayed about it, I put a Facebook status up months before, like: ‘I really want to mentor girls, I think it’s ridiculous who they have to look up to.  I have to change one girl…’

So, months later, one of my sorority sisters called me like “hey would you like to be a step coach?” and I was like, ‘no, why would I want to do that? I want to mentor;’ and she’s like, “I’m gonna have this lady from the school call you. They need a step coach, let me know.”

She was just the advisor for the step team, so the position was open and I never even applied, so…it’s crazy what you put out there in the universe but that was the biggest challenge, it was my first time coaching.  I knew they were 17 , so I knew that were going to have the 17 year old problems.  Senior year, applying to college—getting in, not getting in, attitudes, girlfriends, boyfriends…all of the same things going on at the same time, but I know that they were going to respect me because I respected them.  I knew that they were going to be a championship team because that’s what they wanted.

They were already great and honestly, their choreography before was a lot better than when I came on.  I think it was just the fact that I connected with them and I could relate to each and every, one of them.  I made each and every one of them feel like they were important in my life, and they are.  I also came in respecting what they already had and asking them, what did they want to do?  And coming up with a plan with them.  I didn’t just come in (snaps fingers) and change chants and steps that they already had.  I made sure they’d have a legacy to leave.

What kept you there when times got rough, especially with the incident with Tayla and Blessin?

Gari McIntyre “Coach G” and the “Lethal Ladies of BLYSW” of STEP. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Coach G: Well that was very much downplayed on screen, it was a very big thing and at that point Blessin was really toxic.  She was really getting “into it” with a lot of people at that time and I knew that she was going through things but that’s no excuse to act out, so talking to her one-on-one [but] not exposing her to the team, and not making excuses for her—that was rough.

Knowing that someone is going through desperate times, and they go in desperate mode and  begin to act out on people that they truly love, I think that me keeping my integrity and holding her accountable, but then still loving her and letting her know it’s ok, I’m here for you, what can I do to help and teach her how to fish and not just buy her dinner for the night, I think those were the reasons why she was able to smooth things over with everyone.

Honestly, my boyfriend’s a coach and he’s been coaching for years, and he told me, this is growing pains, and how you learn to be a good coach.  So you have to stick it out.  He was my emotional trash bag.  He was the one who I came back to in tears about what that young lady had went through that day because just as well as these three young ladies (Cori, Tayla, Blessin) had a story, every girl had a story and a struggle, and they shared a lot of things with me, so I think that just the fact that they trusted me to be a part of their village—their parents trusted me, as—if you can’t talk to me, talk to coach.  I think that is what kept me going.  The fact that I fell in love. I didn’t expect to.  I thought it was going to be like a mentor business thing, but the fact that I truly became family with them.

What has the new transition been like, with the new students?

Coach G: It’s been really good, obviously because this was my first time coaching, now I’ve learned so much and I’m learning even more.  I want to add more academics to stepping.

So when you say you want to add more academics, does that mean you want them to keep their grades up while they step?

Coach G: I want to help push their grades further while they’re stepping.  Keeping their grades up has always been part of the program.  You an’t step unless you have over a 2.0, and I think that’s a “D” average, which is the bare minimum of what you can get.  I mean, not the bare minimum, but the least you can get if you come to school everyday, so I think that me looking at where some girls are… not because of focus or ability.

I know there are certain things that they may need so, I think that I wanna isolate the educational process for each young lady so that people who are at a 1.1 can at least go to a 1.3…1.4 and realize that they can do it because I had struggles with education. I felt like they weren’t challenging me enough, and they (teachers)  didn’t teach to me, they taught to 30 people, and I think that isolating these young ladies and helping them now will dictate their future and it’s never too late for that.

I graduated with a 1.8.  My last year, my teachers all said to me, you are so smart, you came in and you passed the test without even coming to school, but you will not come to school, you will not do the classwork—you have something different, but we are not going to pass you.  So they definitely told me, you know, you have something different and you can keep going, but you have to figure out how to play this game because you can not get through life just coming in and passing a test, you’ve got to put in the work.

So that was a learning experience.  Me almost not being able to graduate and me having to go to community college, and having to fight my way through that.  Messing up multiple times, dropping out, failing classes, failing out and getting it back together and finally graduating with honors [so] I can relate to everyone that’s on that team.

So you where one of these girls too?

Coach G: I was all of them.  I know the circumstances of coming home to no food, being homeless, coming home to no lights…having a depressed family member.  Having a family member who doesn’t know how to be a parent…there’s no book, so having a family member who abuse drugs, abuse alcohol and all of these dynamics, and then still I rise.

All of us having to go through that—it’s like “Sis, there’s someone doing better and there’s someone doing worst.  So which one are you going to be?” You gotta focus on, you.

What I appreciated about the film is the creative outlet that STEP provides.

Coach G: And not only just an outlet, they use it for coping.  The girls are learning how to be sisterly…how to have solidarity.

What do you think about the label “at risk?”

Coach G: I think it’s a label. I think that these labels are created purposely to keep people down and to hurt self esteem of minorities because if you are labeled by a stigma, how far do you think that you can go?  Cori specifically being labeled as a child with a teen parent, from being a child, everywhere she went—her mother is young.  She’s in kindergarten, her mother is 23, so of course, I’m sure, she as a child thought—my mother’s young, my mother’s young, young, young—-young.  But, still defied the odds to the point where she labeled herself “I’m not Hopkins material.”  She wasn’t even going to apply if it wasn’t for Ms. Dofat or her mother.

So, I think that these labels are purposely to break the self esteem of minorities and that goes back to the mental health of young minorities and that goes back to the failed system in the United States. as to why they put these government programs and put these things on you and in your mind so you think that: “I had to be a drug addict…I have to be a criminal…I have to be a robber, I have to do all of these things to survive because I’m at-risk.”

So how do we break out of that?

Coach G: I think that as educators we get torn down and tired out and we allow people who have no idea about education to shape what education is.  I think we break out of that by starting our own schools, by educating at home—charity starts at home.    I don’t have any children of my own but I dream about the days when I become a mother and I can be half the mother of these women in this movie, because I truly look up to Geneva, Aisha and Trianna.  They are magnificent mothers and all of the mothers on the STEP team.  I pray that I am half the mothers that they are and I think that, the reality is “charity starts at the home.”

There is no book to parenting, but if you take reality for the fact that you are a parent and decide to educate from the home because you can not depend on the school to educate your children—-you can depend on your school to label and increase the special education programs because that’s how the state gets money—-not to teach them about their culture and their history, no matter who you are.  No matter where you came from—they are not going to teach you about your culture and your history, so that’s what the reality is.

Women really shape communities.  If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.  If you nurture a woman, you nurture a nation and I think that we have to own that as educators and I think that we have to fight because the reality is, these people that are shaping funding, curriculum, how these students are learning, are people who are not in the classroom for 30 years.  We have to rise up and we have to be the ones to say, we’re not going to do this.

We have to say—-this doesn’t work.  We have to say that: you don’t know what you’re talking about.  You’re not going to tell us what to do.  That’s what we have to do.

What does “STEP IS LIFE” mean to you?

Coach G: Step is life is like…with these young ladies, STEP is so instrumental in the social emotional, growth with coping.  They realized that if you can make it through STEP practice, you can make it through life, and dealing with me, and me having tough love of—-whatever you went through today, someone went through worst.  You can get through this!  Because if you give up on this when times are really hard, and when you are really tested, what are you going to do?  Are you going to fold, or are you going to hold?

I really loved the resolve and the sisterhood, so what kind of advice can you give to young girls growing up in this reality show world?

Coach G: Oh my God!  One, I hate the reality show world.  I will say this:  Really idolize women who really exude excellence.  Who can really sit in the First Lady chair, no matter what they do or who they are, regardless of how small or how big their role is in your life [or] what their job is, or their position.  There are women who are just classy who do everything with class and poise.  I believe that if Michelle Obama was a custodian, she would still be the Michelle Obama that she is.  I met her, we had the opportunity to meet her, and her presence…is just…I believe that whatever she was doing in life, that would be her presence…

I would say also, you don’t need “likes” when you have love. And you have to love YOURSELF first, before anyone else can love you.  If you do not love yourself, then you will constantly be chasing love from others, and that’s men, that’s women, that’s teachers, that’s food, that’s sex, that’s drugs, that’s alcohol.  You will constantly be doing that.  So, until you truly love yourself you will be chasing something that is not, OK, and that could even be [likes] on Instagram.  Because again, you don’t need [likes] when you have love around you.

So, love on the people that love you, around you..  Get rid of toxic people, toxic things and don’t put everything on Instagram! Jesus Christ!! And Snap Chat..and Twitter, so I would say definitely watch the people who put everything out there and how they have to deal with everyone having an opinion about what you put out there—so people can’t have an opinion about something that you put out there.

If you keep it to yourself, you can deal with it, yourself.  So those people who do—-do you want to be like them?  And if you do, you need to think about that.  Think about what that means and the weight that carries and if you’re gonna do it, do it with conviction.

STEP is in theaters now.

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