By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Members of the Gorilla Stunt Team see Northeast Mississippi as a collection of obstacles to overcome.
They’re practitioners of “parkour” and “free running,” and they can turn any location into a jungle gym.
“Parkour is the same as skateboarding, but you’re running,” said Cole “Juggernub” Spradling, 17, of Mantachie. “You have obstacles. The whole point is getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as you can.”
Running, climbing and jumping are the tools, and they come straight out of childhood, according to Cody “Cross” Pannell, 20, of New Albany.
“It was inspired, pretty much, by what it was like to be a kid,” Pannell said, “when you’d find stuff to climb up and jump off.”
Several years ago, Pannell and Ernest “King” James, 19, were taking a martial arts class together. They found out about parkour, which was developed in France and has since become a worldwide phenomenon.
“I got on the Internet and found it was getting big over here,” Pannell said.
“We’ve been working on this a while,” James added. “People have claimed New York City and Los Angeles, but who’s claimed the South? It’s ours to take.”
In addition to parkour, Team Gorilla members do “tricking.” Ordinarily, a back flip makes sense on the sidelines of a football game or on the mat at a gymnastics meet.
In tricking, a back flip makes sense just about anywhere.
“It started out with martial arts,” Spradling said. “Instead of competitions and fighting, you do kicks and flips and add dance moves. It’s just for show. It’s all pretties.”
Spradling will visit a park, spend about 30 minutes warming up, then pull off complicated tricks that twist and turn his body in all sorts of ways. A corkscrew move has been giving him fits.
That’s a common theme for Team Gorilla members, who always want to outdo themselves, said Colt “The Tank” Pannell, 17, of New Albany.
“I like to take it as far as I can. If I can’t do a trick, I try it again,” Colt Pannell said. “Basically, it’s a way of pushing my body. It takes discipline.”
Anyone who’s ever sat on the benches at the Ballard Park Skate Park should be able to appreciate parkour and tricking as spectator sports.
Kids like Tre “Beast” Montgomery, 13, enjoy showing off what they can do.
“The audience is the best part for me,” he said. “Sometimes, you go to parks and put on impromptu shows.”
Those shows are for whomever happens to be watching, but one of the main goals is to impress other members of Team Gorilla. They’re the ones who know how hard and scary it is to do a cartwheel off a 5-foot ledge and stick the landing.
“There’s stuff they’re better at than me, and there’s stuff I’m better at,” James said. “We’re all competing. I want to see if I can get better than my big brother. It’s that kind of thing.”
Team rules include examining obstacles and landing areas before attempting a run or a trick, but injuries happen.
“You can get messed up if you’re not careful,” Cody Pannell said. “Tank jumped between one building and another and fell between them. He messed up his arm for a while.”
The guys say getting hurt is part of the game, the way it is for any sport that pushes a player to his limit.
“I’ve gotten hurt, but not too bad,” said Terry “Airborne” Montgomery, 15, of New Albany. “Nothing I couldn’t get up and walk away from.”
As parkour and tricking practitioners, Team Gorilla members see more upside than downside for themselves and others.
“Mississippi is the fattest state in the nation,” Cody Pannell said. “Not every kid wants to play football and stuff like that, so we’re trying to give them something different. This is a thing kids can do to keep them off drinking and drugs. It’s trying to get people moving.”
Team Gorilla has performed exhibitions for crowds at The Mall at Barnes Crossing and at a Relay for Life event in New Albany.
The group is collecting sponsors, and there are plans to someday travel to free running competitions around the country.
“We really want to compete,” Cody Pannell said. “We also might start our own competition. That’s something we’ve been thinking about.”
Whatever the future brings, Team Gorilla members have found something they’re passionate about doing now.
It’s kind of odd, kind of new, and it’s on the fringes of what most people know or experience. That’s the beauty.
“My thinking about it is I just don’t like doing anything normal. Everybody expects you to be how they expect you to be,” Colt Pannell said. “I do this because I like doing it. That’s all.”