THE art of cheerleading has been a phenomenon mostly seen by locals on American television channels. Major entertainment companies such as Disney and Nickelodeon have portrayed different aspects of cheerleading in movies like High School Musical, Gotta Kick It Up, and Bella and the Bulldogs.
For teenagers and young adults in Trinidad and Tobago, such movies were the only bit of cheerleading that they may have been exposed to. However, local cheerleading expert, Corissa Bournes, intends to make cheer accessible to everyone in TT and increase its popularity.
Bournes is currently the coach of the TT Cheer Federation (TTCF) team as well as the co-founder of local club, Cheer Fusion All-Stars, where she develops children and teenagers to become professional cheer athletes.
The 27-year-old cheer enthusiast began her career as a cheer athlete in 2013 at Holy Name Convent, Port of Spain, where she played a part in kickstarting the sport at the school, and spent her time there as team captain. During her tenure, the school took gold and silver medals at the North Zone Cheerleading Championships.
In an interview with Newsday, Bournes stated that her interest in cheer stemmed from her time as a gymnast. “In 2013, I retired from gymnastics and started pursuing a coaching career”, she said. “I took a local coaching course for gymnastics and the president of the TTCF, Koya Barrimond, was there.
“When she introduced herself as the national cheer president, I was taken aback by that because, at the time, I didn’t know that cheer was a thing in Trinidad. After several conversations with her, I then became very interested (in cheer).”
Bournes’ career as a cheer athlete lasted just one year, though, as she grew fonder of being a coach. In 2014, she was invited to the TTCF’s High Performance Team, named Extreme, where she developed her coaching skills.
She was then appointed as a coach at Holy Name Convent, Port of Spain, and she led the school to first place in the TTCF End-of-Year Championship (2014) and second place in the TTCF National Championship (2015).
In 2015, Bournes was awarded the role of national team coach based on her experience and impressive results in the managerial hot seat. She was then also assigned as the coordinator of the annual TTCF cheer camp.
In April of that year, she made a brief return as a cheer athlete when she, along with 13 other athletes, was selected to represent TT at the International Cheer Union (ICU) World Cheerleading Championships in Orlando, Florida, United States – the first-ever TT team to participate in the competition. The team placed 17th in their division and received plaudits from the judges and their fellow competitors for their efforts, as they impressed in the country’s maiden appearance at the Championships.
Back on coaching duty, Bournes took her school team to the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) International All-Star Championships in February 2019, where the team placed second. They returned to the competition in March 2020 and achieved a third-place finish.
On September 12, 2015, Bournes – along with her sister Hadassah – founded the club, Cheer Fusion All-Stars. Hadassah was also a part of the team that represented TT in Orlando, so the club’s foundation was grounded on experience and expertise.
Speaking about the creation of Cheer Fusion, Bournes stated, “We were one of the first club cheer teams in Port of Spain to offer both competitive and recreational cheerleading. The reason for starting the club was to offer an all-star club in Port of Spain, as there were only school teams that existed.”
The club mainly targets kids from three to 18 years old. Members train and compete together as Cheer Fusion are yet to have numbers large enough to split them into age groups.
”In cheer, we don’t discriminate against anybody’s age, physical abilities or cognitive abilities,” said Bournes. “When we have athletes with wide age gaps (18 years old and nine years old), we use it to our advantage. I have had some talented kids at the club and everyone learns, more or less, at the same rate. The older ones take up the position as bases and the younger ones serve as flyers – the ones that do routines in the air. It works well that way.”
Since its inception, Cheer Fusion have competed in various local and international competitions and, are currently the national title-holders of the Level Two Stunt division. They debuted at the TTCF Cheer and Dance Championship in 2016, and placed second in both the Stunt Cheer (Level Two) and Junior Hip-Hop Dance categories.
They entered their first international competition – Cheer in the Sun, held at the Magdalena Grand Hotel in Tobago – in 2017. At the event, the stunt team were crowned champions of the Level Two Stunt division and placed second in the All-Around category.
To date, they have bagged eight major medals in all competitions.
Many citizens in TT may believe that cheerleading is a fun activity, stereotypically illustrated by girls with pom-poms and ponytails. But, Bournes emphasised that cheer is a real sport and the competitors are real athletes, just like footballers and those in track and field.
She expressed, “To construct a cheer routine, you must consider the elements of stunting, tumbling, jumping and dance choreography. A training session comprises of putting those elements together for a two-and-a-half-minute sequence. Right now, we have one day of practice that lasts two hours. In that time, we have to work and put together a routine that is competitive.”
The Cheer Fusion coach added, “Of course, we also have the musical component which requires intricate moves; getting our counts to match the music and create a show-stopping performance to woo the crowd and gain points from the judges. Cheerleading is about entertainment along with athleticism.”
Despite the competitive nature of the club, Bournes believes that there is still a place for the American-inspired way of cheerleading seen on TV. She conveyed that participating in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) inspired her to make cheerleading more popular in TT.
Returning after the pandemic, the club is now revamping its structure by focusing more on community development. Part of their plan is to establish partnerships with clubs and school teams of other sports and offer their services to cheer for them at their matches or events.
As a start, Cheer Fusion is set to collaborate with Royalians Rugby Club, a local club based in Port of Spain. They also intend to service the Secondary Schools Football League and the Intercol competition in the near future.
Additionally, Cheer Fusion will target secondary school girls and educate them about the scholarship opportunities that they can obtain by being involved in cheerleading, especially if they want to pursue their studies in the United States.
Bournes also stated that she will love to have more boys at the club as they are needed to be the base to lift the girls who can perform the flashy tricks seen at the college level (in America).
“We currently have boys (at the club), but it’s just a handful”, she said. “It is a challenge (to bring boys into cheerleading) so, when I’m in the US, I try to network and connect with other people in the cheerleading profession. I think the ideal way to get them (boys) is to have a national-scale clinic where we invite professional male cheer athletes to teach boys about the sport. In order for the sport to go in the direction that we want it to go, we need boys involved.”
On July 20, 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted in favour of granting full recognition to the International Cheer Union (ICU), making the sport eligible to be included in the Olympics programme. Competitive cheerleading made its debut as an Olympic sport at the 2022 Special Olympic Games in Orlando.
However, the sport has been left to wait for its first appearance at the Olympic Games after being snubbed for Paris 2024. Poetically, this means that cheerleading can be showcased on the global stage at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games in the country where the sport was birthed.
Locally, the TTCF End-of-Year Championship is tentatively carded for a date in December 2022.
Prior to the covid19 pandemic, cheer was fairly popular in secondary schools. Along with Bournes’ alma mater, Naparima Girls’ High School, St Joseph’s Convent (San Fernando) and St Augustine Girls’ High School all thrived in national competitions.
The TTCF is now aiming to grow the all-star programme and, with Cheer Fusion being involved, they are attempting to better market all-star cheer to teens and provide them with opportunities that they may not get on a school team.
Bournes also foresees Cheer Fusion opening more branches across TT and the Caribbean, eventually. She concluded, “If we really stay focus on the growth and stay consistent, the sport will progress.”
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