It’s no secret starting a cheerleading program isn’t easy. You often face the struggles of getting athlete numbers as well as the resources to progress and grow as a young club. But what happens when you’re in a part of the country where cheerleading doesn’t exist at all. Today ACC is lucky enough to have Gemma James from Darwin Elite Cheerleaders to talk about her experiences about starting completely fresh.
So Gemma, what is your background in cheerleading and where are you currently coaching/training?
I began Cheerleading in 2001 when our school decided to start a cheer team to compete in a competition at the Brisbane Southbank Piazza. Fast forward 13 years and I’ve competed for teams all over Australia including Canberra, Brisbane and even represented Australia at the Cheerleading Worlds in 2010.
When I moved to Darwin in 2013, my close friend Claire and I decided to start our own squad to keep growing our sport. We were able to start our squad under ‘Sirens’ and when we became to large for ‘Sirens’ to manage from afar, we branched off and became ‘Darwin Elite Cheerleaders’.
Is cheerleading popular in Darwin? Are you the only team?
It was very difficult to start a squad from scratch when cheerleading was not heard of in Darwin. There is one other team here for juniors that run out of the local gymnastics centre, however, there was nothing being offered for people of 18 years +, and no all star team.
For the first 6 months we struggled with only 5 athletes that would be at training consistently. It wasn’t until the start of 2014 that our numbers began to pick up. Most of our athletes have come from our original 5 cheerleaders bringing friends along.
Being in a part of country that is remote from the rest of Australian cheerleading what are some of the challenges you often face?
The hardest part of starting a squad in Darwin was reaching the ‘target market’ and also squashing the stereotype of non-competitive cheer. Claire and I began by attending adult gym classes and speaking to people there. We also posted ads on gumtree & eBay, had an article in the local paper and handed out flyers where ever we went. We have a few small performance gigs coming up soon also.
Starting completely fresh in new area can have it’s ups and downs. Where do you get your motivation from to keep pushing on?
It’s simple really – We love cheer. Not just as athletes and coaches, but we are passionate about the sport and we want to see it grow up here. There are always ups and downs of course, but when we get to teach our athletes new skills and see them succeed, it’s worth it!
How many athletes do you have train with you and how did you come about getting members?
We currently have 21 athletes registered on our Open L2 Coed squad. We offer recreational cheerleading for those who cannot commit to comps and have around 10-15 people that come along to that too.
For 2015 we are looking at expanding and having level 3 & 4 squads and also having a teen squad.
Have your athletes had prior cheer or gymnastic exposure?
Our athletes range from having many years of prior cheer experience to having no experience at all. We do have some ex-gymnasts and ex-dancers but the majority are fairly new to the world of cheer and dance.
With cheerleading being such a new thing in Darwin are there any competitions in the Northern Territory? what do your teams train towards?
At present we are working towards AASCF QLD states. As long as we qualify with a high enough score we will be heading down to AASCF National in November this year. However, as our team has never competed before we are also doing some small demo displays this year to get some ‘stage experience’.
Do you get much support from the major cheer organisations in Australia in regards to information, education and competitions?
We have been really lucky in that we are close with many people in the Auzzie cheer community so we are finding it easy to stay in touch with the all the goings on for cheer. Most organisations have sent us info, sizing kits and general cheer related things to us for free and the support we are feeling from our social media sites has been great! Everyone is very supportive of our new team Darwin team.
Is cheerleading likely to become popular in Darwin and where do you see it heading in the next 5 years?
It’s always hard to say how popular something will be in a new place. So far we have had a great response from everyone involved and we are slowly getting more exposure out in the community.The other Darwin squad offers programs for younger cheerleaders so between us both we have all age groups and skill levels covered.
What are your plans for Darwin Elite Cheerleaders for 2014 and what has your biggest achievement as a team been so far?
As a team, our biggest achievement has been what we managed to accomplish in a 2 day workshop we run in early April with Bryan Adams. Our athletes improved beyond sight and we became stronger as a team.
For 2014 we are aiming to take our L2 open co-ed squad to Nationals and become recognised as a strong competitive team. “Look out for the storm!”
ACC would like to thank Gemma for taking the time to talk to us and if you would like to connect with Darwin Elite check out there facebook or website at www.darwinelitecheer.