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Words: Tovonya Raybe




is more than pompoms, short skirts and ‘Go team, go!’ chants as seen on TV and movies like Bring It On. What you may not realise is the hours of physical training it takes to become a cheerleader, the strength required to serve as bases, or fearlessness needed to be thrown into the air. Cheerleaders are serious athletes, as Flavour finds out...

Cheerleading has become a popular sport in the UK. Natalie John- Baptiste, 29, Patrick Asante, 25, and Tovonya Raybe, 22, are the MDs and elite coaches at Marshals, the UK’s newest competitive cheer and dance programme, in Romford, Essex. Patrick explains there’s more to this sport than we see on TV. ‘It does have competitions and rival teams; it is highly gymnastics based, mixed with acrobatics and dancing; more sports focused than the pompom-driven craze associated with cheerleading.’

So what’s the goal at Marshals? ‘We aim to guide each athlete to a place where they truly master the skills required to be a competitive cheerleading athlete, with a real focus on form and detail,’ says Tovonya. ‘Our mission is to build successful teams of elite-level athletes. Our goal is to teach the value of commitment, hard work, integrity, leadership, self-confidence, positive attitude and a love for one of the most growing sports in the world.’

Natalie adds, ‘Our aim is to also take young people off the streets and give them somewhere safe to go, while

achieving great skills, which can be used in every part of their life.’

The trio have been competitive cheerleaders since they were kids, later moving into coaching for their local club in east London. Then it was time to step out on their own.

‘I have been cheerleading for 16 years and always worked for someone else,’ says Natalie. ‘I know in my heart I will always be in cheerleading, and coaching kids is something I’m passionate about, especially the outreach side because this is something I feel strongly about – cheerleading helped keep me on the right path so I’d like to offer that same chance to others at Marshals.’

From childhoods, then blossoming into adulthood at their previous club, was it hard to leave? ‘It was,’ says Tovonya, ‘but I was unhappy for a long time. My heart was no longer there. There was no possibility of promotion; no one with ambition stays in a job where there’s no promotion. I was confident they couldn’t do anything we couldn’t do ourselves. The three of us combined would make us unstoppable.’

The company recently held its first auditions for children and teenagers to join: those willing to train six hours a week and compete at a national and international levels, ready to be developed into world-class athletes. How vital is the training at the gym?

‘Working in the gym gives

the freedom to build up on skills, without the fear of injuries,’ says Patrick. ‘It’s the safest way of training new skills. The gym is a second home to the athletes; it gives us the chance to bond. We pretty much become a family.’

They all had entrepreneurial dreams, but Tovonya had a head start. ‘At 16 I went to the Prince’s Trust to help set up my custom cheerleading bow business [hair bows to match training kit or competition uniforms]. I still run it on the side. It was very useful at uni, because I could work when I wanted to. I didn’t have to get a job in retail or restaurants to get by like some of my fellow classmates.’

With a thirst for success and to be a world-respected cheer programme and the first European programme to win a world title in cheer, Marshals has big ambitions. Now it’s emails, funding applications, marketing and building the business – frustrating and hard but necessary. Tovonya says, ‘My passion drives me, so when things get tough I look back at what I’m doing and why I’m doing it; plus I have a great support system – family and friends, Nat and Pat.’

Follow Marshals Corp on Twitter @MarshalsCheer or visit


Marshals Cheer Sport with a twist...

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