IF YOU GO
What: All-star cheer and dance team championships
Where: Chattanooga Convention Center
When: Starts at 8:30 a.m. today, ends with crowning of winners tonight
Admission: One-day adult: $20; one-day child:$15; seniors/military:$15
On Saturday afternoon, the streets around the Chattanooga Convention Center were crawling with cheerleaders. Unmistakable in their uniforms, their bows, their hair, their make-up and their pep. Many roamed the streets with parents, likely in search of post-competition sustenance.
"These shoes are killing me," one young princess said to wearied parents who continued marching forward, saying nothing.
Inside the convention center, seated against a wall, a competitor's teen brother yawned as he played a game on his phone, ignoring the muffled dance music pumping through the wall. His parents -- competition veterans -- sat next to him, reading books.
Straight ahead at the all-star team championships, the main thoroughfare was fluid with activity, lined with tables and concession stands, and hundreds of people in between. Teams staked out territory on swaths of convention center carpet, stretching, cheering, checking their phones, eating Dippin' Dots.
There are 176 cheer teams and 17 dance teams from all over the Southeast at the weekend event -- most from Tennessee, with some coming from Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina. They are all club teams, some co-ed, ranging in age from 3 to 18. Divisions are based on age and experience, and routines consist of almost no vocal cheering -- just two minutes and thirty seconds of stunts, tumbling, dance and choreography.
While not quite a national championship, the competition has a similar atmosphere, according to Joey Kaegi, brand leader for Athletic Championships, the event's sponsor and a subsidiary of Varsity Spirit, the largest cheerleading company in the world.
"Since it's been around a long time, it's an event that many people in the industry look at and look forward to," Kaegi said.
The competition is a big deal for another reason. Six coveted invitations, or "bids" to "The Summit," in Orlando, Fla., are up for grabs. Kaegi said The Summit is the true national championship for varsity all-star teams. The winner this weekend gets an all-expenses paid bid to represent the competition. The rest are at-large bids, where teams pay their own way.
Kaegi said this competition is the largest event in Chattanooga each year and typically brings in at least $5 million in tourism spending. With it being the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend, Kaegi said many people stay an extra night, bringing the city additional revenue.
Carl Davis, whose daughter Monica is on the Storm Youth-3 team for the Memphis Pride All-Stars, has been coming to this competition for the last four or five years with his family. Originally from Chattanooga, they see it as a mini-vacation.
"We like to come back, see family, see the city, and do fun things like go to the aquarium," Davis said.
Monica Davis, 9, said she likes this competition better than some of the others her team attends because of its size, the level of competition and the quality of the judging. She said her team turned in a fair performance Saturday.
"It was okay; we had problems with our stunts, but I'm excited for tomorrow," Monica said, when the team's routine will count for 75 percent of its score.
Carl Davis said Monica's team goes to four to six competitions a year, and this is one of the most important.
"The competition is a lot stiffer here. You've got teams like the Atlanta Stingrays here, and they go hard, and that makes our girls work a lot harder," Davis said.
Robert Farmer, coach and gym owner of the Jackson Cheer Co. of Jackson, Tenn., said this is his second year bringing teams to Chattanooga, and this competition is one of his favorites.
"It's just organized, from top to bottom," Farmer says. "If they say something will happen at 3:50, it'll happen at 3:50. A lot of these events can get off schedule, and when they do, there's a trickle-down effect. Angry parents don't go to the event manager to complain, they come to me."
Farmer's team won an at-large bid to The Summit last year, and it's framed on the wall at his gym. The team couldn't afford the trip, but Farmer said that just winning a bid was special.
"The best of the best come to this event, so for you to hit your routine and place high, that's something to be proud of," he said. "For you to hit your routine and win, that's something to be ridiculously proud of."
The competition continues today and winners will be crowned tonight.
Contact Will Healey at email@example.com, at 423-757-6731, or on Twitter at @wfhealey.