MILLEDGEVILLE — When Bulloch Academy moved up to top classification in the Georgia Independent School Association last year, everyone knew that state championships in any sport might be few and far between.
After all, teams from the small Statesboro school would have to face off against squads from the much larger Atlanta, Macon, Albany and Augusta schools in all sports.
But, on Saturday, it was the student-athletes who perform in hairbows, skirts and body glitter who were the first ones to bring home a golden trophy as the school’s competition cheerleading squad performed an almost flawless routine to capture the 2011 Class AAA state title.
“The girls came onto the mat with such enthusiasm,” said BA head coach Kem Dennard. “We nailed out stunts and tumbling. Everything was clean and precise, and they executed the whole routine wonderfully. It was clean, tight and controlled. The sharpness and dancing really stood out and separated us from the other teams.”
The Lady Gators won the state championship by three points over the squad from Westminster School of Augusta. Tattnall Square of Macon and Pinewood Christian from Stillmore tied for third in the 11-team competition, which was held at John Milledge Academy in Macon.
A competition cheerleading squad performs a two-and-a half minute, high-energy routine that includes such moves as basket tosses, liberties, pyramids, tumbling, elite partner stunts and precision dancing. All season long, Dennard knew that her girls had the ability to win but the confidence was not.
“I knew that the girls had the talent,” she said. “They just didn’t believe in themselves. We have had a lot of ups and downs this season. We haven’t placed any higher than third in our competitions, and it was our mistakes that hurt us. All I wanted them to do Saturday was to believe in themselves and leave it all on the mat. We had long talks about confidence. I wanted them to do the best possible job that they could and leave the floor with no regrets. When they came off the floor after the performance, they were screaming, yelling and crying because they knew they had just given it their all. They did an awesome job.”
The teams are judged on motions, dance, jumps, tumbling and showmanship.
“There was some great competition there,” said Dennard. “When the top three teams were announced, the girls were sitting in a circle on the mat, holding hands. When we weren’t called for either third or second, we thought that we had finished fourth or lower, because they only announce the top three. When they called out ‘Bulloch Academy’ as state champion, the girls started screaming and crying and the parents and students who had made the trip started jumping up and down. It was so exciting.”
Members of the 2011 state championship competition cheerleading squad are seniors Corley Turner, Ashley Ann Brannen, Allie Jacobs, juniors Kittie Lee, Merrill Nelson, Maggie Hodges, Adeana Brinson, sophomores Caroline Burnett, Claire Branch, Mary Lee Olliff, Kayla Parker, Taylor Ann Bray, Ansley Sumner, freshman JoBeth Hendrix and eighth graders Jan Marie Page, Taylor Frankin, Tayler Wickham and Anna Lee Howell. Kim Burnette is the team’s school sponsor and assistant head coach.
In 2007, the Lady Gators won the GISA Class AA state championship and finished second in 2008. Turner and Brannen were freshmen on the state runner-up squad.
“One thing which really, really helped us Saturday was the fan support,” said Dennard. “We had a lot of students and parents drive up from Statesboro to cheer for the girls. That really helped calm them down. There’s a showmanship part to the performance and having familiar faces in the audience really helped the girls feel more at ease when they were doing their routine. We really appreciated all the support and encouragement.”