HUNTERSVILLE – Not an ancient warrior exactly, but Kevin Cassidy is indeed a modern-day ninja. Not only because he is the owner/operator of the Ninja Nation franchise in Huntersville, but because Cassidy has skills that border on legendary.
Today, Cassidy is a business owner, a husband and father of three girls under the age of 6. He wears his Ninja Nation logo proudly and moves from meeting to meeting and surveying his facility with ease. And only when he sits down for a rare moment does he let on about how he got to this place.
At the age of 10, Cassidy’s family left Long Island, N.Y., to move to Charlotte. Although he had a different accent and looked a bit different, his talent at a variety of sports integrated him into school activities.
“I played basketball and football and baseball, and in high school focused on the latter two,” he said.
His talent garnered attention from several area colleges and his baseball skills not only led him to play for Lenoir-Rhyne University, but also gained him a spot in the minor leagues, first for the Cincinnati Reds organization then in the Independent League.
As Cassidy recounts his life story, he pauses to reflect. “I didn’t really have a plan early on,” he said. “I kind of just rode the waves to see where I’d go.”
And what a ride it has been.
Teaching and SlamBall
He followed a friend to Baltimore and found a teaching job in a low-income middle school, teaching science and PE and working with Exceptional Children and classes in an Individualized Education Program. During that time, he also had several side jobs, bartending and working as a personal trainer and watching an up-and-coming new sport on television called SlamBall.
SlamBall was created in 1999 as a combination of several sports on a court mixing hard surfaces and trampolines between two basketball goals. Players used the trampolines to reach extraordinary heights while trying to make baskets. A physical game, SlamBall became a sensation in the early 2000s with a special draft held around the country.
During his summer break from teaching, a friend from Philly called to tell him SlamBall was holding auditions at Temple University and a group of their friends should come try out. With nearly 2,000 people auditioning, Cassidy was one of 20 chosen to go to Los Angeles for more tryouts. He went back to Baltimore to his school administrator, who told him to “go for it!” and that he would always have a job there if he didn’t make the final cut.
But the wave kept moving Cassidy into the SlamBall arena and even today, a simple Google search for “Kevin Cassidy SlamBall” finds a number of breathtaking moves made by Cassidy. He made the All-Star Team, participated in interviews and promotional events, reveled in the high ratings on Spike TV and met a myriad of exceptional athletes …
until the creator of SlamBall and the Spike TV network went to court and the momentum paused, which meant a return to Baltimore before returning to Los Angeles to wait for the next step.
With help from friends and the contacts he’d met in SlamBall, Cassidy got his Screen Actors Guild card to participate in open casting calls. His “break” came during a casting call for the movie “The Longest Yard” with Adam Sandler.
With thousands of people vying for roles as football-player extras, Cassidy’s SlamBall connection with one of the casting interviewers led him to a small role. And his talent and persistence led him to do so much more.
Seventeen years later, Cassidy recounts his roles with an almost nonchalance.
He’ll reflect on his work on the movie “Salt” and note that Angelina Jolie was very kind and down to earth. He’ll also discuss with exacting detail the proper procedures for using guns in movie scenes – different from that in the recently suspended Alec Baldwin film “Rust.”
And yet, in conversation he’ll never mention the awards he has received from SAG for his stunt contributions. Those can be easily found on his IMDb page, as can the list of movies he has been in, like “Black Panther” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
When he married his wife Megan, Cassidy began to think about the weeks and sometimes months away that accompanied his movie roles and what might become of their family, and he started planning for a new “wave” in his ongoing career.
An ideal next step
With much research, planning and then with a bit of luck, he landed a meeting with the Ninja Nation franchise and found what he was looking for. Today, a step in the facility reveals kids of various ages engaged in physical activities and challenges that lead to competitions, self-confidence and lots of smiles.
“Mainstream sports can sometimes be soul-sucking for kids as early as 8 years old,” he said. “I think it is important for kids to experience the celebratory aspect of sports, like the X Games.”
Cassidy’s approach to life is simple and he wants his kids and others to appreciate their strengths.
“Don’t get compartmentalized,” he said. “Be who you are matters more than what you are. Have confidence in that and don’t get tied down into one thing. Be able to pivot.”
Those words resonate even louder from a man whose story of successes hardly mention the fact he was born with a severe cleft palate. In a conversation he casually integrates comments like, “I didn’t have a nose then,” or “I got my jaw in high school,” with such a casual air that a listener doesn’t grasp the gravity of the comments for a few seconds.
Because he had to be specially fed as a baby, he only weighed 10 pounds at the age of one. But when he started getting active, he couldn’t be held back.
“I got into BMX and always went full speed,” he said. “My grandmother couldn’t watch.”
“Is my attitude toward life nature or nurture?” he wondered out loud in reaction to a question. “I don’t know, but perhaps it’s a bit of both. But that’s what I want kids to know – no matter what, they can do anything.”