When you think about cheerleading, it’s easy to picture an American high school setting with pompoms and chanting at the side of the pitch or court - cheering on the quarterback in the final play of the fourth quarter, or the point guard in the dying seconds of a basketball match.
What many people don’t realise is that it’s actually a competitive sport, and a very difficult one at that. It’s also becoming increasingly popular in the UK with competitions and clubs springing up across the country. Perth has its own well-established cheer club – Perth Phoenix Allstars – which is run by local school teacher Ashleigh Kesson at the club's gym down in the North Muirton industrial estate.
“We’ve got around 70 girls now involved with the club,” Ashleigh told me, “from the age of three upwards. The club just continues to grow and grow and we now have a number of different squads and are starting an adult’s one too.”
Perth Phoenix Allstars operate three main squads – Peewees, Juniors and Seniors – as well as recreational classes and a new adult squad which will start in the very near future. They currently compete in three competitions a year, as well as performing at a number of local events and also the Perth Phoenix basketball matches, with whom they are affiliated.
It all started when Head Coach Ashleigh – a teacher at The Community School of Auchterarder – first brought cheerleading to her previous school at Perth Grammar. Phoenix Allstars has now been on the go for over three years and the continuing rise in numbers is a testament to the family feel that she has created within the club.
“I’d started a club at the Grammar and it was proving to be really popular. I then went abroad for a year and when I came back I decided I wanted to start a club out with school and that’s where the Phoenix Allstars started.
“It took us about 18 months to get the funding for our gym here but it’s all been worth it and it’s a great space for the girls to come and train. We’re linked with the Phoenix basketball club and it’s nice because it gives us that community feeling. We do routines at their games and it’s great because it gives the girls something regular to train for and provides great experience for competitions too. It was a really good competition for us down in Manchester, the girls had great fun and they worked really hard.
“We were recreational until last year but now we do three national competitions every year. Earlier this month was our first of the year down in Manchester, and then we have one in Perth in January. The last of the season is in June in Glasgow and we’re hoping to also perform at a number of local events in between too.”
The club were south of the border in Manchester at the beginning of December competing and Ashleigh was delighted with how her girls performed. Many of them were competing for the very first time against girls older and more experienced, and she hopes they can take the positives from the experience into the competitions in Perth and Glasgow.
“It was a really good competition for us down in Manchester, the girls had great fun and they worked really hard. We competed in three different categories; the youths aged between 6 and 11, the juniors aged 11 to 14, and the seniors aged 14 to 18.
“The youths finished 6th out of 12 which we were delighted with because for most of that squad it was their first ever competition. Our squad was mostly 6 and 7-year-olds, where as other squads in that age group had 10 and 11-year-olds so to finish 6th was a great achievement.
“Our juniors and seniors both finished in 2nd place which was absolutely fantastic. We were over the moon and they deserved it because they trained so hard in the run up to the event and performed brilliantly on the day. Hopefully we can take confidence from this and put on another strong showing in Perth and then Glasgow next summer.”
With Perth hosting its first cheer competition in January, Ashleigh hopes that it will prove to be a big success and encourage more people to get involved in the sport. She wants to change people’s perceptions around cheerleading and to help them understand that it is a serious, difficult and fun sport to get into.
“We want to get the word out there to people that cheerleading is not just this thing that you do with pompoms, it’s actually really tough and our girls can sometimes train as much as 10 or 11 hours per week. They have to focus on their diet and nutrition, and they have to work on strength and conditioning too.
“It also really helps to build mental toughness and discipline too. The girls know that if one person fails to turn up for practice then it has an impact on the whole squad because everybody needs to be there to fully practice a routine. I don’t think people realise just how hard and how much we actually train. They probably think we just turn up and do some chants then go home – that’s definitely not the case!
“I don’t think people realise just how hard and how much we actually train, or what actually goes into training. They probably think we just turn up and do some chants then go home – that’s definitely not the case! The amount of effort the girls put in is unbelievable and there are so many different aspects of training in order to create the perfect routine.
“The girls train gymnastics, stunting and dance, alongside the strength and conditioning work we do too. We now run two sessions on a Tuesday, four on a Wednesday, three on a Thursday and two on a Friday – so as you can tell it’s a lot! We have some really dedicated coaches as well who help me and the club couldn’t run without them.”
The club’s Junior and Senior squads are currently running at full capacity, however Ashleigh and the Phoenix Allstars are really keen to recruit new members for their Peewee group.
“We are hoping to get more 3 to 6-year-olds involved in the Peewees – sometimes there aren’t enough in the classes to do some proper cheer training. These kids are the future of the club and that age group is all about fun and introducing them to the sport. We’d love to see more come along and give cheerleading a try!”
The club's gym is based at Unit 6, Kilda Place, North Muirton Industrial Estate, PH1 3RL. Contact Ashleigh Kesson via the contact form on the website if you wish to enquire about hiring the gym.
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