Testimonial of Lorraine Ofori
Describe the type of person you were before you joined AEC.
I’ve always been driven and relatively independent. I used to go to the Office for Children’s Rights, Commissioner for London, Islington, on a Saturday morning to debate and promote the protection of children’s rights in London, and England. So I think it’s fair to say I was always a reasonably confident child. Before I was a cheerleader, I was in love with cheerleading- obsessed, is probably a better word. When I was at primary school I was the head coach of the world’s smallest cheerleading team, the Lethal Lions. There were five of us and we used to cheer for the boys while they played football. They had no idea what was going on! So as you can probably see, confidence was not an issue for me when I was growing up.
What attracted you to cheerleading?
*Creepy story disclaimer*
My journey as a competitive cheerleader began with a girl in a blue, white, yellow and red cheerleading skirt. This was before the times of the DLR, so a lot of the Custom House and Prince Regent area was still under construction- it was a lot less business orientated than it is now, and children still played out on the street; me being one of them.
On one particular day, I saw a girl in a cheerleading skirt. I was so excited I did something that no sane person would normally do in that, or any situation… I followed her. Eventually, we (not that she knew we were a we) arrived at the London City Airport Fun day. I loved it! There were loads of them: little ones in red, juniors in blue, and older ones in Navy. It was there that I saw my first cheerleading routine. There was so much going on, I didn’t know where to look! But in amongst all the choreography and glam, I saw a girl, who turned out to be Mel Brown, thrown up high in the air and hit a toe touch. It was then that I knew I had to be on this team.
I found an article about the Ascension Eagles, featuring a testimonial from Paula Brown. At the bottom was the try-out information. I ripped it out and took it everywhere with me, I was desperate not to miss the try-outs. When the time came, I rang the number to register my interest and… I missed the try-outs! I was crushed. My dream was right there in front of me, I could touch it, but I had to wait another year. All was not lost though, Shara, Programme founder and director invited me to the London Cheerleading Academy, a project set up by the Ascension Eagles to attract young people in the local area to cheerleading. I can remember going to my first session and feeling so conscious of myself. There were girls there wearing training clothes, their hair on point topped with the most colourful bows. I was wearing combat pants and couldn’t take part as much as I wanted to because they were too tight. Bad times. I persevered though and eventually tried out the following year.
The try-out itself was a bit of a shambles, the advice before we went in was not to kick and woo. I kicked and wooed- bad start. Then one of the girls I was trying out with did a front hand-spring. So I thought to myself, if I want to be a cheerleader, I need to do a front-handspring too. I attempted it and landed flat on my back, winded. But even through all the chaos and mishaps they saw something in me and put me on their junior team.
At the time, it was the greatest day of my life. My dream had been realised.
How did Cheerleading and AEC impact on you as a person?
When I was 15, Shara sent me on my first LCA camp. I walked into the hall and it was full of university students. I knew they were going to be there beforehand, but when the realisation hit me, I was stunned into silence. Thankfully I was coaching with Holly Gerrard at the time who took the lead. I remember thinking afterwards, how did I stand there the whole time and say nothing? A few months later, Shara gave me my first school job at Drew Primary School. But by the time it had come round I was ready.
Shara developed what was known as the Junior Leadership Team. Essentially, it was the developmental programme for future AEC coaches- the way it was delivered to us was all about aspirations, they made you want to lead.
In terms of long-term impact, I really felt the benefit of my coaching experience when I first started teaching. Because I was so used to being in front of large groups, crowd control was innate, meaning my behaviour management was far beyond that of other beginning teachers. It meant I could settle into my job with relative ease from a pastoral point, and focus on the delivery of a curriculum. Fast forward a few years, and I’m head of year 10, which I love doing. But I believe that ability, and confidence, was embedded in my conscience long before I became a teacher.
As a consequence of cheerleading what have you been able to go on and do?
University of Chester 2012-2013 (coach)
Liverpool Hope University 2012-2013 (coach)
Aviators Raptors Level 6 2010-2011 (athlete)
Unity Black, Indigo and Ruby 2011-16 (athlete)
Winning 9 national championships across 6 years
UK Judge 2014-Present
Lorriography 2013-Present (choreography provider)
What is your favourite memory as a cheerleader/ choreographer extraordinaire?
It’s difficult, but I think if I had to choose it would be at Worlds 2012. I completed with Unity Black in the CO-ED level 6 division. Traditionally, crowds can be quite fickle if they don’t know who you are, particularly if you’re from outside of the United States. However, I can remember setting out from the pyramid and moving to the dance. I don’t know why, or how it happened, but the crowd just seemed to light up and really get behind us. It is the most insane feeling I’ve ever had as a cheerleader. It was amazing!
What would you say to young people like you, who perhaps lack in confidence?
Keep working for what you want; even if it feels like a million miles away, it could literally be around the corner. One day the phone rang, then teaching and Lorriography just took off.
I never looked back.