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ECI competition cheer to debut for first time in 12 years this weekend

More than a decade has passed since Emanuel County Institute’s competition cheerleading team has taken the mat—but that won’t be the case after this weekend. Coaches Tabatha Downer and Jeana Durden held tryouts a few weeks ago, whittled down their team to its final roster, and have been working hard ever since in preparation for their season opener, which will take place in Vidalia this Saturday, October 9, at the Sweet Onion Cheer Classic.

Sixteen special young ladies are on the special roster that will represent ECI: freshmen Mattie Cochran, Destine Hirschy, Hali Kate Johnson, Madalyn Jones, Allie Rigdon, Janna Scott, and Smith Willoughby; sophomores Taylor Rae Flakes, Lizzie Millsaps, Macie McBride, and Marti Woodward; and seniors Sara Fordham, Jalasia Gordan, Alaya Hudson, Faith Mincey, and Karmen Thompson.

They began conditioning in the summer with practice as a group starting in August. Now, the routine, best described as “challenging,” given this is the program’s first year competing in 12 years, is complete and the squad has been meeting after school twice weekly to perfect it. Additionally, some students travel to Pooler for gymnastics to improve their tumbling skills every week.

“One of the issues a Class A school like us has is that several team members are involved with many other clubs/organizations that compete in the fall as well,” Downer said. “Several of our athletes also take college classes through the Move On When Ready Program with East Georgia College and Southeastern Technical College. Over half of the Bulldog squad is also involved with the Work-Based Learning Program and have a part-time job as well. Needless to say, competition cheer has to work carefully with these groups to schedule practice and competitions that work for everyone involved.”

Be that as it may, the squad is committed and ready to give the “fast-paced” routine their best shot.

“Our routine leaves room for improvement as we develop more advanced tumbling passes and our stunt groups become more advanced,” Downer added. “All in all, we are so very proud ECI can resume this program to give our student-athletes the opportunity to compete in this area. Cheerleading promotes teamwork, stamina, strength, flexibility, and athleticism. We hope to make our mark in Class A competition this year.”

That will begin, of course, with the Sweet Onion Classic. The Bulldogs will also compete in the Gamecock Challenge in Screven County on October 16, the Battle in the ‘Boro (Statesboro) on October 23, and wrap up with the Rumble in the Jungle in Swainsboro on November 6.

Downer adds that none of this would be possible without the help of Bob and Luci McNeely with Swainsboro High School competition cheer. The Tiger program has helped ECI resume this sport and has graciously shared their facility and mats for practicing purposes.

Look for updates in The Chronicle on ECI competition cheer’s season as it unfolds.