A long fight to see cheerleading recognised as a sport has finally paid off.
Members of the Kent Cheer Academy in Gravesend were thrilled when the International Olympic Committee delivered their verdict at this summer’s Tokyo Games.
It’s been quite a battle but, with full recognition as a sport, it might not be long before we see cheerleading as an Olympic discipline.
“It’s taken a big international effort,” said coach Catherine Wilcocks, who founded the Kent Cheer in 2013.
“Cheerleading is massive in America but it’s very business-led there.
“In the rest of the world it’s a growing sport and we’ve been working collectively to try and get recognition.
“There’s been a big push for a number of years now and we’ve had to set up a governing body for all the different countries.
“So many opportunities will open up now, it opens up the sport for funding and we’ll be able to bring it to a much wider audience."
Kent Cheer, based at St George’s Secondary School, launched with just six members.
Eight years later that figure is more than 200 and 100 of those compete regularly.
The club participate locally, nationally and internationally and have two big competitions in America to look forward to next year.
“We’re going to Dallas in February for the biggest cheerleading competition in the world, the NTA All-Star National Championships, and then in April we’re off to Florida for the World Championships, which is really exciting,” said Wilcocks
“The February competition, only two teams from England have ever won there, and there’s probably only 10 who’ve ever competed.
“Cheerleading has been shut down for pretty much a year, we’re so keen to get back to normal and, fingers crossed, we’re able to travel internationally.
“We’ve got the younger ones going to Dallas and the senior girls to Florida.
“It’s a big commitment for the girls. A lot of them are studying GCSEs and A-levels, and doing this on top, training four times a week.
“They’re very dedicated, very committed, it’s phenomenal what they’re achieving.
“Retaining girls in sport is a big problem for the government and Sport England because they tend to drop out around 11/12.
“It’s so hard to keep them in sport but we’re doing that successfully and we’re really proud of them.
“It is a sport, and what we do is incredibly difficult, there’s not a pom-pom in sight at our club.
“We have girls lifting other girls over their heads - they have to be very strong.
“There’s a lot of high-level tumbling - similar to gymnastics - and there’s the dance element.
“We try and go into schools to do after-school clubs and dispel misconceptions about the sport, and we are finding more people are willing to let their kids try it.”
Kent Cheer Academy would like to hear from any companies interested in sponsorship opportunities to help fund their US trips.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.