Donned in their coveted black leather jackets - the cheerleading world's equivalent of the Super Bowl ring - the Statesboro Cheer South All-Star Senior team flew home as national champions last week from a competition in Dallas, Texas.
Cheer South was one of hundreds of teams to compete in the 2010 National Cheerleader Association's All-Star National Championship held at the Dallas Convention Center Feb. 20-21. The competition is often referred to as the "Super Bowl" of cheerleading. After two days of stiff competition, the 18-girl squad, with members from Bulloch and five surrounding counties, captured first place in the Level 4 Senior Small Gym division.
"I've been on the team for six years and (winning the national championship) is something we've been working toward for what seems like forever," said C.C. Rohrer, a senior on the team. "It was an amazing experience and a dream come true."
The team is coached by Keyshia Brunson and Katina Archie, two former Statesboro High cheerleaders who opened up Cheer South in 1998. Brunson said she couldn't be happier for her girls.
"I'm extremely proud and overwhelmed. They set goals, and even though we had a few bumps in the road, it never stopped them," Brunson said. "I'm so proud they made the decision as a team to stick together and work for that one goal - to win nationals. And they did it."
When tournament organizers announce the winners at the national championship, they announce all the places except first and second and then clear the floor and bring the final two teams to the center to hear the final results. Brunson jokingly said she almost passed out while waiting to hear the announcement for second place.
"When you're on the floor and all the lights are shining, all you're thinking is 'Don't say Statesboro,'" Brunson said. "It's an intense moment and you're holding your breath - that had a lot to do with it."
"We were all huddled up together in the center - holding hands and holding back tears," said team member Elizabeth Thompson. "One of our goals was to make it to the final two, and we were just so excited to meet that goal and be out there in the middle."
After the first day of competition in which the initial performance is worth 20 percent of the final score, the Senior All Stars were in second place. The team got together and decided this was their year to finish strong.
"We got together and felt that if we went out and gave it our best the following day, good things would happen," said team member Simone Douglas.
So the following day, the seniors went out and performed a deduction-free routine, which gave them not only the highest point total in their division for the day, but also the overall top score.
Brunson credits the success of this year's team to a core group of senior leaders - Di Boney, Abbie Mizell, Douglas, and Rohrer - who all have been with her for six years or more. Brunson said their leadership - through setting goals and maintaining focus at every practice - is what helped the team break through.
"The goal they set was to have a successful year and they tried to instill that in all the girls," Brunson said. "With that, they came to every practice and encouraged the other girls to make every practice in order for the team to work. If you have two or three missing every week, it'll never come together."
But the seniors weren't the only team to compete well in Dallas. Cheer South's All Star Youth team placed second in the Level 2 Youth Small Gym division, missing out on the top spot by a quarter point.
The teams won't be able to rest on their laurels for long, as the team is heading to the "Clash of the Titans" competition in Jacksonville, Fla., March 20-21. Both the senior and youth teams have won back-to-back titles at that competition and they will be working hard in the upcoming days to prepare and train in an attempt to three-peat. In addition, Brunson and Archie will take two other teams to the competition - a Mini team of children ages 4 to 8, last year's first place winner, and a Senior Co-ed team that will compete for the first time.
Cheer South is located in Heritage Park directly across the street from Mill Creek Park. For more information, call (912) 764-7827 or check out their Web site at www.cheersouthallstars.com.