At Thomson High School, cheerleading has taken the leap from the sidelines to become a sport in its own right.
"Before this year, we were more of a spirit squad on the sidelines to support other sports," said Amy Hitt, the varsity cheer coach. "Now, we are the sport."
They will compete for the first time at Statesboro's Battle in the Boro on Saturday.
Hitt said competitions require "a grueling performance full of dancing, tumbling and major and minor stunts."
The competition cheerleading squad includes 16 team members and one alternate, with varying experience levels. While some of the girls had been cheering competitively for years, others had never done a cartwheel.
The five girls who couldn't do a cartwheel at the beginning of the year have improved tremendously, Hitt said. Now they can all do back handsprings on their own.
Sophomore Philineshia Harmon has cheered competitively for eight years with the Thomson Competitive Bulldogs. She said the more experienced team members enjoy helping the other girls and teaching them about stunts.
"Competitive cheer requires a lot more technique," she said.
Senior Britnie Anne Campbell agreed. Though she has been cheering for five years, this year has been both the most stressful and the most rewarding.
For the past three years, the Thomson cheerleaders have practiced cheers and pep rally dance routines for about 45 minutes after school.
Now they practice until 5 p.m. almost every day, improving their tumbling skills and perfecting stunts.
"It takes time, effort and a lot of work," Campbell said. "If you don't do the routine over and over and over during practice, you're not going to be able to do it on competition day."
The road to their first competition has been a bumpy one.
For a few weeks they were plagued by injuries, making it difficult to hold a full practice. Their practice was moved from gym to gym to accommodate other sports.
The team has remained dedicated to preparing their routine.
"We've just focused on hitting everything and getting it clean," Campbell said.
The Thomson athletic community has showed its support for the team, Hitt said.
Because the cheerleaders don't get money from gate sales, they have relied on selling programs, holding a cheer camp for children and holding a car wash, never raising enough money for new equipment.
When the athletic boosters heard the girls were going to start cheering competitively, they unanimously agreed to give the team $3,000.
"Whenever we've asked Coach Hitt and the cheerleaders to help at fundraisers they've never said no, so how could we say no?" said Richard Downs, the president of the boosters. "We want the community to know it's more than football."
Hitt used the money to get new uniforms, which the cheerleaders hadn't had in years.
"Having the uniforms covered enables us to go into competition looking like a professional group," she said.
The team will also compete in the region competition on Nov. 5 at Washington County High School. Thomson will take the floor at 9 a.m.
The state competition is in Columbus, Ga., on Nov. 11 and 12.