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David Minton

Dunk squad gets air at fair

Profile image for By Christian McPhate / Staff Writer
By Christian McPhate / Staff Writer

He soared through the air, not like a bird. He looked like an F-16 fighter jet, flipped once, sometimes twice and threw a black-and-blue basketball that matched his attire into the air for his teammate who soared past.

“Slam dunk!” cried one of the many children who sat on the edge of their seats, hoping for no one to make a mistake.

The TNT Dunk Squad mesmerized the kids and the adults walking into the fairgrounds Tuesday night. Kenny Cousino, David Pendergraff, Vinnie Bolanos and Denton’s own Cordarius Smith sprinted a short distance and leapt onto small trampolines that somersaulted them through the air. Death-defying would be an understatement if they weren’t using mats to break their falls.

“We’ve been having a blast in Denton,” Cousino said.

The TNT Dunk Squad has been showcasing its acrobatic slam dunk abilities across the country, appearing at Los Angeles Lakers playoff games, the Olympic Games and the NCAA Final Four. Now the squad has brought its slam dunking magic to the North Texas Fair and Rodeo.

Founders Keith Cousino and Brian Smith are well known in the sport of gymnastics. Cousino led the men’s team at the University of Iowa, and Smith was a two-time MVP and two-time Athlete of the Year for Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he also was a three-time All-American.

They’ve appeared on Cartoon Network’s Hall of Game Awards and ESPN’s Bud Light Daredevil Special, as well as being featured in a commercial for Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal.

“It’s a great way to talk to kids about positive choices, anti-bullying, teamwork and health and fitness,” Cousino said. “It’s a great way to get a good message out to the kids.”

On Tuesday night, the acrobatic slam dunkers dazzled the crowd by seeking young volunteers, positioning them a free-throw-shot away from a single hoop behind them and soaring over their heads to slam the basketball through the net.

“Whatever you do, don’t move,” Bolanos told them, while Cousino slipped on a red cape like a superhero.

The look on the mothers’ faces as Cousino soared over their children’s heads was a mixture of fear and excitement, because who could deny the smiles on their sons’ and daughters’ cherubic faces when the squad landed safely behind them?

A small boombox blasting hits that spanned the decades provided theme music for each stunt. But it was the Redneck with Paychecks all-terrain vehicle revving its motor on the other end of the court that fans eagerly awaited.

The vehicle sounded like a monster truck on steroids as it pulled in front of the basketball goal.

Everyone knew what was about to happen, and the silence that followed was eerie.

“All right, guys, we’re going to get crazy here,” Bolanos announced.

“No,” some of the children seemed to be saying as they shook their heads. A few devilish-looking angels greedily nodded in excitement and clapped their hands as Cousino prepared his final run.

Cousino looked like a superhero flying over the top of the all-terrain vehicle. It was a picture-perfect shot as his hands extended toward the hoop and released the ball.

He tucked his legs in tight, finishing his flip and landing safely on the mat.

The basketball soared through the net. The crowd of mostly children erupted.

“It’s all about the kids,” he said.

TNT Dunk Squad performs at 6 and 8 p.m. today and Friday at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo at the North Texas Fairgrounds. Shows are scheduled at 2:30, 4:30, 6:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at 940-566-6878 and on Twitter at @writerontheedge.