The Ascension Eagles Cheerleaders are Britain’s number one cheerleading team. They have entertained millions of people and won hundreds of trophies in the process. They are true champions on the mat and off the mat through the amazing youth outreach work they do so we thought it was about time we found out more about them.
How did the Ascension Eagles Cheerleaders get started?
Ascension Eagles Cheerleaders (AEC) started in 1996 as an outreach of Ascension Church Centre, Custom House in the Victoria Docks. Originally, some cheerleaders for a church 5-a-side tournament, but when that was over, the cheerleaders wanted to keep training. We ran it as an informal youth club for a bit, and then the young people decided they wanted to make it official, so we had tryouts and everyone had to make a commitment to step up and become a proper squad.
How many boys and girls have you currently got on the squad and what ages do they range from?
We have 100 girls and 20 boys, ranging in age from 5 to 25.
What have been your highlights and best performances so far as a group?
As we start our 12th season, we have entertained over 200 million people, won over 300 trophies and have travelled to Germany, Finland, France, Slovenia, Monaco, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the USA. Very few squads world-wide can claim that sort of record. Just this past year, we had the honour of opening Wembley at the FA Cup, and being on the pitch with Prince William and other celebrities. We returned to Wembley for the FA Community Shield in August, and were featured in Caris magazine that month as well. Performing live with TAKE THAT was pretty incredible. Winning Nationals was sensational.
All of these opportunities and successes give you a huge rush, and are pinnacle moments. But what really makes it all worthwhile is seeing the changes in our members’ lives on a day-to-day basis. For instance, we’ve just completed our 2007-08 tryouts and as we watched returning members audition, we were able to note how far they’ve come in a year. Their skills are certainly better, but it was their confidence and the light in their eyes that really moved me. AEC have a strong sense of belonging. It’s sharing this amazing journey with our AEC family that makes is so worthwhile. And we are confident that the best is yet to come!
Now to some cheerleading may be seen as pompom waving at sporting games but cheerleading is about more than that, can you tell us a little bit about the hard work and training that goes in to your performances?
Our members audition each September and train at least twice weekly, year-round. We teach them championship level cheerleading — which involves high energy stunting, dance, jumps and tumbling — as well as values that underpin a strong team. Cheerleading involves the same components as many other sports — strength, flexibility, cardio-fitness, endurance, timing, coordination — but it is unique in that it offers many opportunities to develop the young people as leaders as well. Our young people run our program. Plus they gain the confidence to get up in front of thousands of others and demonstrate their skills.Girls worldwide are captivated by this sport. Because they are interested in it, it can be used to transform their fitness and community involvement. For some, it becomes a lifeline. When you find something that makes a positive difference, you go with it.
How does it feel to be British Champions and to be representing the country at next years world championships?
It is a tremendous honour. Only the top one per cent of teams worldwide get to compete at the Worlds level.With this honour comes the responsibility of representing our country well. We know that thousands of UKcheerleaders would love to be there with us. When we walk onto the Worlds floor, we are representing them. We desperately want to do our best and advance England’s world ranking. When you accept a Worlds bid, it feels great, but you also get this strong sense of a mantle being placed around your neck, that you carry as you try to raise the funds and train appropriately. You are not just doing it for your team, you are doing it on behalf of so many. We have to push harder than we ever have before.
How do you guys fund all the amazing things you do, equipment and so forth?
It is very, very difficult. Our members’ families make a lot of sacrifices for their children to be part of our program. We do a lot of fundraising, and also performances that generate performance donations. We build relationships with corporates, and find ways to help them partner with us to meet their community objectives. Raising money is a constant pressure. With Worlds before us, we are not honestly sure how we are going to get there financially. That’s part of the burden that comes with the honour. We welcome all the support we can get.
Now the Ascension Eagles are also heavily involved in giving back and training Can you tell us a little bit about the London CheerleadingAcademy?
Ascension Eagles are committed to seeing cheerleading develop as a sport across the UK. When we have the opportunity to learn new skills or compete at the top international level, it makes our program stronger. We take all that we’ve learned and find ways to share it with others. AEC founded London Cheerleading Academy (LCA) as a major part of that commitment. Each month our AEC coaches — who are young people who have grown up in AEC and have made a commitment to giving back — volunteer their time and talent to help others develop as cheerleaders. Our AEC coaches volunteer over 200 hours each year coaching others; our AEC program pays for them to take their coaching exams, and also funds Child Protection and First Aid training for them. We want to equip them to coach at the highest possible level.
Some other cheer squads hire in choreographers to do their routines; we have taken a different route. We have hired top trainers to come in and train up our coaches. This not only develops them as leaders, but helps us to run a sustainable program and enables our young leaders to make a major contribution to UK cheerleading. Last year our coaches worked with over 2000 other young people through our LCA outreach.
Your ethos is 1 Dream, 1 Heart, 1 Team, 1 Family, no regrets. How came up with the ethos and how important is that philosophy to your group?
Some of our young leaders came up with that ethos. It reminds us of all we share in common — especially when life’s difficult circumstances threaten to pull us apart. In everything we do, we strive to live our lives with NO REGRETS. Once something is over, you cannot change the past. We can only learn from our experiences and make sure we grow stronger and better. We try to live INTENTIONALLY, so that we do not miss opportunities to give our best. That’s how we live life we no regrets.
What big competitions and performances have you got coming up that people will be able to see you perform at?
October 28th: NFL, Wembley
November 10th: Lord Mayor’s Show, London (televised worldwide or come watch it live in London)
December 2nd: FutureCheer Winter Wonderland, Brentford — Regional Cheer Championships (www.futurecheer.net)
If any aspiring coaches are looking for training opportunities, come to the National Coaches Conference October 13-14 — go to www.futurecheer.net for more info. It is going to be amazing!
What are you ambitions and hopes as a team for the coming year?
We aim to make a transformational difference in the lives of each of our members, as they train, entertain, compete and engage in a series of Lifeskills & Leadership development opportunities. We use competitions to measure our progress in skills development, and we will be aiming to retain our Championship titles. Each year teams across the nation are advancing at a rapid rate. We all have to work hard if we want to win the titles, but that’s great because it improves the overall competitive standard across the UK.
In 2006 we were the first English team to compete at the elite Cheerleading World Championships. We were ranked 12th. In 2007, we were ranked 7th. In 2008, our goal is to make it to the top 5. This will be a tremendous challenge as international cheerleading advances across the globe, but we really want to strive towards this goal.
What skills and qualities do you have to have to be an Ascension Eagle?
Commitment to work hard and give your best efforts at all times. Ascension Eagles make a commitment to their team, so they have to put others first. We also expect our members to follow a Code of Conduct — which the founding members wrote — and to strive to be a role model in all areas of their lives. Individually, the majority of our members may not have amazing skills or talent, but when they come together, these ordinary young people do extraordinary things! They become record-breaking, history-making Champions!