IF YOU GO
What: Athletic Championships cheer and dance competition
When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. today
Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza
Admission: $15 one-day adult pass; $10 one-day pass
Website: www.athletic championships.com
In case the impossible stretches, cartwheeling little sisters and bored little brothers didn't make it obvious, the "Please Apply Body Glitter Outside" signs inside the convention center hammered it home: Chattanooga was Cheeranooga on Saturday.
For 10 hours, 4,000 cheerleaders and dancers from 208 teams nailed the flips, twists and turns they'd been practicing for months. Supporters and coaches watched, many recording the Athletic Championships national competition with their iPhones or iPads at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
"You're so nervous, but when you get up there, you let everything go," said Abbey Coppenger, a 16-year-old from Atlanta who's cheered since she was 5. "You hit a move, you hear the whole arena go wild, and it's the best feeling in the world."
At any given time, dozens of spectators flooded into two dark auditoriums as dance music roared for teams like Knoxville's Blacktip Sharks and Chattanooga's own RAH! Spirit.
Lisa Headrick, a Ringgold, Ga., resident whose two daughters were competing, roamed the halls with a smile. One of her daughters is tasked with lifting and hoisting her teammates -- a "base" in cheerleading lingo -- and the other is a "flyer," meaning she's the eye-catcher thrown into the air.
"I say it every time -- please catch her!" she said.
Some testosterone mingled with the estrogen. Cody Marlowe, a 17-year-old from Atlanta, first navigated the world of cheerleading a year ago when "some girls on my high school team needed a boy and just came to me."
The former baseball, soccer and football player called cheerleading "by far the hardest" sport.
"My friends used to mess with me," he said. "But once they realized college [scholarships] were involved and the girls and stuff, then they kind of backed off."
The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated a $5.04 million economic impact from the Athletic Championships' two-day competition.
Across Carter Street, City Cafe general manager Gary Haworth said he understood why as he pondered how many new customers he saw come through the doors.
"In Mexico they say 'mucho,' in Tennessee they say 'a whole bunch,'" he said. "We've had a substantial wait since 8:30 this morning."
Bill Cox, the father of Mary, a 14-year-old cheerleader from Greenville, S.C., also contributed to the city's coffers during one of the many lulls such competitions present.
"There's a lot of waiting, but you find ways," he said. "We went next door ... and had lunch and a few cocktails. Much better now."
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...