The Georgia Bulldogs battling the Auburn Tigers on the Plains Saturday may be a marquee matchup for many sports fans.
But in Columbus, the major economic game Friday and Saturday is the Georgia High School Association Cheerleading State Championship.
The competition, which will bring in nearly 3,000 athletes and more than 400 coaches for the two days, is expected to pack local hotels and restaurants.
“Not only are the hotels going to be full. But your restaurants are going to be full,” David Boyd, event manager with the Columbus Sports Council, said Thursday. “It’s hotels, it’s restaurants, it’s buying gas. It’s a huge impact.”
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The council estimates the total dollar amount that will be dropped into the Columbus-area economy at around $1.2 million. That’s higher than the $900,000 generated by the GHSA’s softball championship earlier this year, and far more than the $27,500 spent in the city from the association’s state rifle competition.
This marks the 12th consecutive year that Columbus has hosted the cheerleaders, which pits teams — female and coed — against each other at the Columbus Civic Center. Boyd said the event will sell out the arena both Friday and Saturday. Admission is $12.
“The Georgia High School Association wants to put an event in place — first of all — where we’re wanted, and where we have good facilities, and where we have people that we can count on as volunteers and other workers so that we make sure that the event is managed well,” said Ralph Swearngin, the association’s executive director. “Columbus is big in all of those categories.”
The high-energy cheerleading competition is held to determine the cream of the crop from across the state. But it also has become a big spectator sport, with Boyd saying in previous years lines have formed at 4 or 5 in the morning to get coveted viewing spots.
Pam Carter, state cheerleading coordinator and a former Hardaway High School cheerleading coach, said parents accompany the athletes to Columbus, while students, administrators and other fans and supporters also make the journey to root them on.
“It is big,” she said. “We’ve been told we’re one of the biggest of the athletic events in the state. But the Civic Center is just so cooperative in setting things up. They’ve learned cheerleading over the years, so they know what to do.”
The Columbus Sports Council is urging the cheer teams and their followers to stay at hotels in Columbus since the city has added to its lodging portfolio in recent years. There have been times when some stayed in Auburn, Ala., and as far north as LaGrange and Pine Mountain, Ga.
But Carter also knows the Georgia-Auburn game may fill a few rooms locally, with fans driving over to Auburn for the 3:30 p.m. game Saturday.
“I know. It’s usually Auburn-Georgia or Georgia-Alabama or one of those big games that always falls right with our cheerleading competition,” she said.
However, the cheerleading pack should have a bit of a jump on the college football crowd, with many arriving in Columbus Thursday afternoon and leaving after the competition ends Saturday afternoon.
Boyd said he expects the competition will return in 2014 because of the city’s long relationship with the association and it’s track record through the years in putting on the event.
“The other thing is what we have to offer,” he said. “Our Uptown area is unbelieveable with restaurants, and the hotels do a great job of taking care of them.”
Swearngin also concurred that Columbus has a history of well-run events when his groups visit Columbus. But there is the matter of driving distance, he said.
“The only thing that some people are concerned about is the fact that you’re on the edge of the state,” he said. “So if you’re coming from Savannah or from Augusta or even north of Atlanta, it’s a bit of a chore to get across the state. But we think, overall, that Columbus is the place to be.”