published Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Chattanooga Convention Center hosts national cheer and dance competition this weekend


by Chris Carroll
A cheerleader does a midair split during a performance on the cheer stage Saturday afternoon. An estimated 14,000 competitors and spectators flooded the Chattanooga Convention Center this weekend for the Athletics Championships’ cheer and dance competition.
A cheerleader does a midair split during a performance on the cheer stage Saturday afternoon. An estimated 14,000 competitors and spectators flooded the Chattanooga Convention Center this weekend for the Athletics Championships’ cheer and dance competition.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
Chattanooga Convention Center

IF YOU GO


What: Athletic Championships cheer and dance competition

When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. today

Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza

Admission: $15 one-day adult pass; $10 one-day pass

Website: www.athletic championships.com

In case the impossible stretches, cartwheeling little sisters and bored little brothers didn't make it obvious, the "Please Apply Body Glitter Outside" signs inside the convention center hammered it home: Chattanooga was Cheeranooga on Saturday.

For 10 hours, 4,000 cheerleaders and dancers from 208 teams nailed the flips, twists and turns they'd been practicing for months. Supporters and coaches watched, many recording the Athletic Championships national competition with their iPhones or iPads at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

"You're so nervous, but when you get up there, you let everything go," said Abbey Coppenger, a 16-year-old from Atlanta who's cheered since she was 5. "You hit a move, you hear the whole arena go wild, and it's the best feeling in the world."

At any given time, dozens of spectators flooded into two dark auditoriums as dance music roared for teams like Knoxville's Blacktip Sharks and Chattanooga's own RAH! Spirit.

Lisa Headrick, a Ringgold, Ga., resident whose two daughters were competing, roamed the halls with a smile. One of her daughters is tasked with lifting and hoisting her teammates -- a "base" in cheerleading lingo -- and the other is a "flyer," meaning she's the eye-catcher thrown into the air.

"I say it every time -- please catch her!" she said.

Some testosterone mingled with the estrogen. Cody Marlowe, a 17-year-old from Atlanta, first navigated the world of cheerleading a year ago when "some girls on my high school team needed a boy and just came to me."

The former baseball, soccer and football player called cheerleading "by far the hardest" sport.

"My friends used to mess with me," he said. "But once they realized college [scholarships] were involved and the girls and stuff, then they kind of backed off."

The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated a $5.04 million economic impact from the Athletic Championships' two-day competition.

Across Carter Street, City Cafe general manager Gary Haworth said he understood why as he pondered how many new customers he saw come through the doors.

"In Mexico they say 'mucho,' in Tennessee they say 'a whole bunch,'" he said. "We've had a substantial wait since 8:30 this morning."

Bill Cox, the father of Mary, a 14-year-old cheerleader from Greenville, S.C., also contributed to the city's coffers during one of the many lulls such competitions present.

"There's a lot of waiting, but you find ways," he said. "We went next door ... and had lunch and a few cocktails. Much better now."

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