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Cheerleading competition starts today in Columbus

For the Columbus High School competitive cheerleading team, it all comes down to execution.

The team is looking to defend last year’s state title at the Georgia High School Association Cheerleading State Championships this weekend. Coach Merrimore McDonald said she thinks the girls have the difficulty level needed to be serious contenders.

“There’s a lot of talent out in the state,” McDonald said. “I think if the girls execute their routine like they did at (the regional competition) last week, they’ll have no problem.”

After winning the Region 2-AAA title last weekend, Columbus High earned an automatic bid into Saturday’s Class AAA cheerleading state championships. Two other local schools — Brookstone School and Harris County High School — have also secured spots in the finals.

Four more area high schools — Northside, Hardaway, LaGrange and Troup County — will compete at the Columbus Civic Center today in sectionals for the chance to advance to Saturday’s finals.

Most coaches said their teams have been fine-tuning their routines throughout the week in preparation of the big weekend. At Northside, the team has been working on technique and energy levels after the Lady Patriots took second place to Columbus High at last weekend’s regional competition.

“I feel like we have a really good chance,” said Northside assistant coach Tamara Garner. “Difficulty, we’ve got it. It’s the little things that we’ve got to work on that will make a difference.”

For Harris County, it’s also a case of upping their routine’s difficulty levels. The team garnered a state title in 2006 as a Class AAA team. With the growth of the school since then, they’ve been moved to Class AAAA and will compete Saturday against similarly larger schools.

“It’s a much tougher level,” said coach Tammy Bailey. “The competition is much tougher. ... Back in 2006, we thought we were great because we could do a toe touch back handspring. That’s nothing now.”

“It’s really anybody’s game at state,” she added.

Reworking routines

For a few schools, this week has required them to rework their routines after key teammates were injured — a common occurrence within the sport. High school cheerleading accounts for about 65 percent of all high school catastrophic injuries to female athletes, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.

“It’s a physically challenging sport,” said Brookstone co-coach Nicole Farley. “They’re running and tumbling and bouncing.”

Brookstone cheerleaders brought in an alternate after one of their captains broke her hand Sunday — just a day after winning the Region 2-A title. Brookstone, who last won a state title in 1997, will compete Saturday in the Class A finals.

“It was devastating,” Farley said. “She’s a captain and one of our best cheerleaders. ... But we were lucky that we had an alternate.”

Troup County cheer coach Amelia Key said throughout the year they’ve had to replace five starters — including two this week — due to injuries such as a sprained ankle and ACL injury.

“Because of the injury, we’ve had to take out one of our partner stunts,” Key said. “But to offset that, we’ve added a level of difficulty to our pyramid.”

“It’s challenging rechoreographing and putting in new people, but they step up every time,” she said.

Some coaches said even if their teams don’t advance, they want to make sure the girls enjoy the experience.

“I’m just tickled we’re going to be in there because the girls are so sweet and work so hard,” said LaGrange coach Malinda Fynan, whose girls cheer competitively and at football games. “I’m so proud of them.”

“It’s going to be some good experience for the girls,” said Hardaway coach Wendi Jenkins. “I just hope they get out there and have a good time.”

Andrea V. Hernandez, 706-571-8586

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