Video: Beckton cheerleaders Ascension Eagles rise to fame
- Credit: Archant
“As soon as you tell someone that you’re a cheerleader, people think of you as a scantily clad girl on the sidelines cheering someone on.
“But competitive cheering is actually a very difficult discipline which borrows from gymnastics and acrobatics and requires real strength.”
So says Angela Green, director of Beckton’s Ascension Eagles, one of the most successful cheerleading groups in the whole world.
And she should know, having won European gold in the discipline and been recognised by the Queen for her services to the sport.
As part of Ascension Eagles from the very beginning, Angela’s seen it develop beyond belief since she joined the fledgling group as a 14 year old in 1996.
It all started when a new vicar joined the Ascension Church Centre in Custom House and his American wife decided to start a cheerleading class. Initially drawing in about six members, they practised in the church hall on Friday nights.
Despite their enthusiasm, at their first competition in Bognor Regis the group finished last, receiving the dreaded “spirit stick” for being good sports.
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“It still haunts me,” Angela joked. “We decided then that we didn’t really like losing so we worked really hard to improve. All of us are quite competitive and are the kind of people who want to go out and win - so we did. ”
Since picking up their first trophy in Bracknell, they’ve had a team compete in every national competition to date and picked up hundreds of trophies in the process.
Now about 131 youngsters aged between five and 25 head to the group’s unit in Gallions Reach retail park up to four times a week for intensive training.
And these girls - and boys - are serious about their complex acrobatic routines which blend tumbling, gymnastics and dance.
“We are not about pom poms, it’s proper gymnastics and really challenging,” Angela explained. “But it also about being part of a team and creating special bonds which last a long time.
“It’s so different from just going to a gym on your own - you are performing a routine on stage among friends who are supporting you and willing you on. There is something really special about that.
“A lot of kids say that we are like their family and they really feel like they can be themselves.”
Excitement is mounting about the the club’s first ever local competition at the Copper Box later in the year.
While it be a return to the former London 2012 venue for the select few who were picked to cheer on competitors at the Olympic games, for many it will be their first chance to show off their skills on home turf.
“It’s a big deal with us to go back there with all of our teams and we will showcase our special needs team too,” Angela said. “As it will be in our area we expect more support and most of them are inviting their friends.”
She’s amazed by how the group has grown in size and popularity since its humble beginnings, and what the sport has offered her - including meeting her now husband, Gareth, when he was training a rival team.
“The cheerleaders are so lucky now because they have these amazing facilities compared to when we were younger,” Angela said. “We used to get new cheers posted over to us and try stuff out down the park. It’s now on a much bigger scale.
“When I started at 14 I never would have guessed it would take me to so many places and become such a big part of my life.”
For more information about Ascension Eagles, visit ascensioneagles.com