NEWBURYPORT — Simply watching his daughter practice for the cheerleading squad changed Todd Kopp's whole career path.
A cabinetmaker by trade, Kopp witnessed his then-8-year-old daughter, Kelsie, a flyer, practicing her stunts off the couch one night.
"I thought, 'that can't be safe,'" remembered Kopp, 44.
He decided to put his skills to use and make the girl her own device — he dubbed it the "MaeFlyer" after her middle name.
The device is a board that is designed to be used one leg at a time, with one leg on the center of the board and one leg free in the air. Without letting the sides of the board touch the ground, cheerleaders can practice their stunts and then safely step off the device.
Kelsie took the tool to the gym and to practice. Almost immediately, calls from coaches and parents came in — could Kopp make their child one?
From there, the concept grew, and in April 2002, Kopp started Core Athletics. In the beginning, it was a weekend job.
The company, based in Newburyport, with a shop in Amesbury, now offers six products and has recorded sales in all 50 states as well as overseas. Clients include the range of cheerleaders from college and high school students to Pop Warner and All-Stars.
The products were invented and designed to help athletes improve strength, conditioning and endurance while also decreasing the chance of an injury.
There's the "De-frogger" anklets, which lock ankles together while a cheerleader practices back handsprings and standing back tucks; Stunt Straps, bands that help cheerleaders safely stretch their leg muscles; and Knee Bands, a resistance training tool that won "Best New Product" in 2007 by the Spirit Industry Trade Association.
A Handspring Trainer is used to spot handsprings and walkovers, freeing a coach from acting as a spotter.
The product that's perhaps closest to Kopp's heart is the Cheer Vest — a lightweight safety vest to protect an athlete from bruising or injury when learning or practicing stunts.
While the vest initially drew criticism or questions from coaches and cheerleaders who thought it would get in the way of a flyer's movement or be too confining, opinions have changed in recent years.
"We've slowly tried to change the minds of the coaches and parents one at a time," Kopp said.
The vest has been noticed by Ruth Burns, the mother of 14-year-old Ashley Burns, a cheerleader from Medford who died in 2005 during practice from a lacerated spleen after landing improperly following a stunt. A portion of the proceeds from each sale of a vest goes toward the charitable foundation that has been formed in Ashley's name.
During the busy cheerleading season, Kopp visits conferences, competitions and camps all across the country to show and sell his products. Core Athletics has been featured in trade publications, catalogs and cheerleading magazines. During the Christmas season, he estimates the company gets 40 to 70 orders a day.
The products are also drawing the interest of athletes beyond cheerleaders, including those in marital arts and track and field. Kopp hopes to branch out to offer his products to hockey players and baseball as well as people looking for tools to use while working out at home or even just taking a walk. Former New England Patriots football player David Givens, who recently left the Tennessee Titans, has signed on to be a spokesman for the Knee Bands. Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady also called looking for a pair.
Kopp hopes to next introduce the conditioning tool to the Bruins.
Because of the interest Core Athletics has gotten in its industry as Kopp's name continues to spread, the company will soon be featured on E! Entertainment "Hollywood True Story Investigates" on Friday, May 9, at 8 p.m. A crew came to Massachusetts a few months ago to film a segment at Jag Cheer Training Center in Woburn, where staff and students used Core Athletics equipment and to interview Kopp.
Despite the company's growth — Kopp took it full time more than a year ago — the basis of Core Athletics is small. While there is a shop in Amesbury, the company is headquartered in Kopp's Newburyport home.
Kopp's wife, Ellen, has lived in Newburyport since 2000. Todd and Kelsie moved into her Tyng Street home in 2005.
"We're just a little Mom-and-Pop operation," Kopp said.
To see all of the company's products or to learn more about Core Athletics, visit http://coreathletics.com or call 866-623-3593.