Skip to content

Meet Tyler Thompson, Owner of Grace Cheer Academy in Grand Forks, ND

by EverLight Films and Lydia Moran

A person with long black hair and I black beanie hat stairs at a laptop on top of a glossy wooden table. There are several empty seats next to them.
Photo Credit: Filipo Williams
Tyler Thompson studying at the University of North Dakota Law Library.

Tyler Thompson found out she got into law school the same week she decided to open her own cheerleading academy. Rather than choose between two dreams, she's been tackling both ever since.

Tyler Thompson knows she’s doing a lot, but she tries her best to keep it under wraps.

“It’s really frowned upon to work at all your first year of law school, let alone own a business, so I really kept that quiet,” she said.

Thompson didn’t plan on owning and operating a cheerleading academy, let alone doing it while simultaneously studying to become a lawyer. But in spring 2022, everything happened at once. 

After captaining the University of North Dakota dance team during undergrad, Thompson was privately coaching dance when friends encouraged her to open her own business. A week later, she was applying for an LLC and signing a lease on a space for what would soon become Grace Academy Cheer.

On that same whirlwind Friday that she signed the lease, Thompson also learned that she was accepted into UND’s law program. She’d first applied two years prior and had all but forgotten about it.

Not wanting to back out of either dream, Thompson says her faith gave her confidence in her ability to juggle both.

“Very rarely do you get to do what you love, so when you get that opportunity, it doesn’t mean you have to put down your obligations. Your gifts will make room for you.”

In less than two years, Grace Academy grew from an original class of 15 students to over 200. 

About two dozen young people hold hands with their heads bowed in a circle. They wear pink and black dance wear and white sneakers.
Photo Credit: Filipo Williams
Grace Academy Cheer students pray before competing.

Thompson says that while not every student who comes through Grace will be a lifelong cheerleader, the sport builds confidence and life skills that can last into adulthood. During this upcoming season, classes are available for everyone from toddlers to adults, with a team exclusively for kids ages 5-18 who have special needs and abilities.

“In cheerleading, there’s always a risk behind it. We’re trying to exercise those skills of walking by faith to be courageous, even if we’re afraid to try something new,” she said. “You never know what you’re capable of until you do it.” 

In a strong hockey town, Grace Academy also offers an alternative activity and community for girls and boys. Over 300 people attended the latest showcase.

As a young woman of color in a leadership position, Thompson has had to face instances of people in her life—clients and professors included—doubting her abilities. She says a couple of families pulled out of the program after learning that she is the owner. Overall, she wishes Grand Forks had more support geared towards businesses owned by women of color. 

“I think the biggest thing is people just can’t believe I own this,” she said. “They’re always looking for the owner. I’ll get emails [about something I said] saying, ‘One of your coaches said this, just checking in to make sure it’s good with you’ — I don’t think they realize that I’m truly the owner.”

“You never know what you’re capable of until you do it.” 

Tyler Thompson
One person wearing a long sleeve red t-shirt stands with their hands clasped in front of them and smiles into the distance. To the left, a person in a blue beanie, white jacket, and sunglasses, is talking to someone outside of the frame.
Photo Credit: Filipo Williams
Tyler Thompson (R) and another Grace Cheer Academy coach.

The coaches at Grace Academy are primarily women of color. Thompson is proud that her students are coached by Black women leaders, an experience she wishes she had as a child. 

Thompson is on track to graduate school next year and said she plans to stay in North Dakota, dedicating her practice to advocating for civil rights, particularly within tribal communities throughout the state.

“I never could imagine I could handle both until I did it,” she said.