If you go
› What: 2018 Athletic Cheer and Dance National Championships
› Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.
› When: Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 13-14
› Spectator admission: One-day pass for adults $20; military, ages 6-12 or 65 and older $15. Two-day pass for adults $35; military, ages 6-12 or 65 and older $25.
› For more information: athleticchampionships.varsity.com/events/Chattanooga
Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar ... more than 200 cheer squads will stand up and holler when the 2018 Athletic Cheer and Dance National Championships return to the Chattanooga Convention Center this weekend. It's a two-day spectacle of cheers, tumbling, synchronized pompoms and aerial stunts performed by young athletes shimmering in body glitter.
"We have 225 teams registered from about 10 states," says Joey Kaegi, brand director with Athletic Championships. Team members range in age from 4-5-year-olds through collegians.
"Athletic Championships hosts 14 competitions around the country," says Kaegi. "The most exciting thing about our Chattanooga event is that it was home to our first Athletic Championship in 2001, and we've held competitions there ever since. Out of the 14 cities we are in, Chattanooga is third-largest." The top two in attendance are Columbus, Ohio, and Providence, R.I.
The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau expects this weekend's cheer-and-dance championship to draw an estimated 14,000 folks, who will make about a $5 million economic impact on the city.
Kaegi says the competitors are primarily cheer squads, with only a "handful" of dance teams competing.
Teams are divided by age divisions and gym size: Division 1 is large gyms of more than 125 athletes, D2 is for gymnasiums of 125 athletes or less. All squads perform both days.
"We take 25 percent of the score from day one and 75 percent from day two, combine them and that becomes a team's final score," Kaegi explains of the scoring process. The final score determines who wins or places in the different age-level brackets.
All squads placing will receive a placement/participation banner. Level grand champions will receive a banner to hang in their gyms. Specialty banners will be awarded for best stunt, pyramid, dance section and innovative choreography.
Kaegi says a new prize is being awarded this year: national champion sport hoodies.
"In the past, we have given out jackets or T-shirts to national winners. This year it's a sleek, athletic-looking hoodie that's black that says National Champion on the back."
But the real incentive: a bid to The Summit, the top of the cheer-championships pyramid, held at Wide World of Sports in Walt Disney World in May. Kaegi says this weekend's event will give out five bids to The Summit and five bids to D2 Summit.
This influx of cheerleaders, families and fans from across the Southeast gives Chattanooga businesses a lot to cheer about. After a squad performs, it has the rest of the day to shop, dine out, visit area attractions or do whatever coaches schedule.
"People really love this competition because with the convention center right downtown, there are so many things for them to do nearby," says Kaegi.
Spectators are welcome, says Kaegi, and there will be hundreds of chairs on the convention center floor from which to watch.
A "priority viewing area" will be set up directly in front of the stage for the benefit of family and fans of a particular team.
"If you are there to watch a specific team and cheer them on, you may wait to the side of the stage. When your team comes onstage, you may move into the priority area to watch and yell for your team. When the team finishes, those fans move out of the priority viewing area to make room for the next group," Kaegi explains.
And of course proud parents will be shooting video on their cellphones, but Kaegi asks fans remain courteous to other spectators. Fans may take video on their phones, he says, but may not hold phones up high, which blocks sightlines.
For more information: athleticchampionships.varsity.com/events/Chattanooga.