Cheerleading challenge in pipeline for world beater Shannon

When you have won a world dance title the next task is to retain it, and that is just what Lanes Group plc bid team assistant Shannon Whitehead aims to achieve.

In April 2019, she was head coach of the England adaptive abilities pom team that won world championship gold in Orlando, Florida, USA.

Now, sports governing body Sport England has appointed Shannon to manage the same team and she is determined to do all she can to retain the title, again in Orlando, in April 2020.

Shannon, aged 24, from Salford, Greater Manchester, has worked for drainage and water utility specialist Lanes, based at its head office in Manchester, since June 2019.

Bid Team Manager Haylie Orton said: “Shannon has contributed to the team from the first day. She’s enthusiastic, driven and sets high standards in her sport, and she brings those qualities to work too.”

Shannon has been cheerleading since she was six. She is a member of the Red Hot Flames Dance Academy in Salford and has won regional, national and international team cheerleading titles.

But the pinnacle of her career so far has been to coach 24 disabled and able-bodied dancers in the England team to victory in the ICU World Cheerleading Championships.

Shannon says: “We had worked so hard for months to prepare for the worlds. When the team was announced as winners, there were screams, tears, rolling on the floor. It was pandemonium! I was very proud.”

Most team members in adaptive ability cheerleading have a physical, learning or mental disability. Some, though, can be able bodied, to guide disabled team members.

Under Shannon’s guidance, the England team is seeking to retain the title it won in pom. A pom is a small fluffy ball held by competitors as they perform an intricate and athletic dance routine to music.

The team’s 18 members are aged 13 to 32 and include competitors who are blind, deaf, and have ME. One team member has part of her right leg missing below the knee. Team members can also compete in wheelchairs.

“Adaptive ability cheerleading is wonderful because it’s so inclusive,” says Shannon. “Our routines have to incorporate all kinds of disabilities but that just makes them even more creative and great to watch.

“We all want to push ourselves as hard as we can to retain the title. As the manager, I work closely with the rest of this year’s Team England staff, to make sure the wellbeing of every team member is considered.

“That involves working with parents, family members, and their GPs and physiotherapists, if necessary, to support competitors so they can safely and fully enjoy their sport while training and competing.”

The England team will enter the world championships as one of the favourites. But Shannon is taking nothing for granted. The sport’s popularity is growing rapidly.

In 2019, England competed against four other teams in the adaptive abilities unified team cheer freestyle pom division. In 2020, there are expected to be up to eight.

The USA will be strong. Cheerleading there is on the school curriculum. But other firm favourites are closer to home. This year’s silver medal was won by Wales. Another strong contender will be Scotland. Shannon, though, is looking forward to even bigger prizes. Cheerleading is on course to be an Olympic sport in Paris in 2024 or Los Angeles in 2028. She would love to help Team GB win a Para Olympic gold as well.

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