Alex Banks never intended to be a cheerleader.
Now, she can't stop.
"I went to watch a practice, and they asked if I wanted to try it out, so I did," the Harlem High School senior said of her first visit to the Thomson Competitive Bulldogs cheerleading program. "I started cheering from then on because I loved it."
Banks has progressed since then. She cheers for TCB's top competitive senior squad, and she recently moved into a leadership role within the organization. In that capacity, she has gained the opportunity to give children the same start she had.
Banks is the coach for a new TCB Level 1 satellite program in Harlem, housed in the Harlem Woman's Club.
At Level 1, children ages 6-11 learn the fundamentals they will need to move up. TCB squads at all levels have earned a total of 11 nationals championships since the school's founding seven years ago, program director Laura Adams said.
"I enjoy being there and watching the kids as they learn more and they come out of their shells a lot more," Banks said. "A lot of them have come in very shy and a little scared. Afterwards, they did not want to leave at all.
"And a lot of them have improved a lot from the first time they came."
Banks was a natural choice to coach the Harlem satellite squad; she's the only Harlem High School student cheering with TCB.
The satellite program will hold free cheerleading potential tests on Mondays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. throughout September. They are designed to assess a potential cheerleader's physical fitness and coordination to determine the child's best fit on the squad.
The second portion of the initial experience would involve tumbling exercises. Because of the equipment needed for tumbling, that portion is held at TCB's home gymnasium, Sweetwater Park Gym in Thomson.
The tests also give children an opportunity to see if competitive cheerleading is something they would like to do.
Adams said the activity is beneficial in numerous ways, including socialization. One core value is gaining self-esteem; another is learning to face one's fears by gaining enough confidence to do certain complex maneuvers one might have considered impossible before, she said.
The satellite program is free to try and offered at a low cost for beginning cheerleaders, Adams said.
"We're trying to make it cost-effective for anybody whose daughter -- or son, we have guys, too -- wants to do it," said Adams, who added that the beginner satellite program is about one-tenth the cost of normal TCB membership.
TCB also has satellite programs in Lincolnton, Wrens and Gibson. The program has members from Jefferson, Glascock, Lincoln, Warren and McDuffie counties.
For more information about TCB or the Harlem satellite program, call Sweetwater Park Gym at (706) 595-8182.
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