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Cheer on the crouching Tigers!
Brenau University inaugurates competitive cheerleading squad
Brenau University cheerleader Leah Smith, 20, a junior, gets a running start Thursday during practice at USA Cheers in Sugar Hill. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Nearly two dozen Brenau University students are kicking, tumbling and stunting their way into the school's history books.

Under the direction of Head Cheerleading Coach Krista Britt, the university's Golden Tigers competitive cheerleading squad is gearing up for its inaugural season.

"I have 11 incoming freshmen out of a team of 19. The other eight were already Brenau students with cheerleading and dance backgrounds," Britt said.

Although the university has had a "spirit squad" for many years, this is the first time the institution has had a competition squad.

"The spirit squad cheers at basketball games. They basically do cheers and chants to motivate the crowd," Britt said.

"These girls are stunters and tumblers. They're taking the good hits, but putting the phenomenal things in the air. They're flipping and flying, putting on a great show. The level of athleticism is amazing."

With just a few practices under their belts, the squad is still busy shaping their shared vision for the team.

"We're all really excited. It's our first year, so we want to make it really good," said Kiah Davis, a Brenau sophomore from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"We don't have captains, so we all give our input, but there's always going to be a natural leader. It's the natural flow of things. I think it's better that way."

Gainesville native Kristian Roebuck is looking forward to performing at the school's back-to-school pep rally tomorrow and training for competition.

"I've been cheering for four years now," said Roebuck, a freshman at Brenau.

"It keeps you in shape, it's fun and it keeps you motivated."

Sarah McAndrews from Marietta is also looking forward to competing on the collegiate level.

"I've been doing competition cheering since third grade. Basically my whole life. I did middle school and high school cheering too," said McAndrews, who is also a freshman at Brenau.

"I always get the nervous butterflies. It never gets any easier, but when I'm out there, it's home. I love it."

The Brenau team is in a unique position not only because it's the school's first, it's also unique because for the first time, there's no question that the cheerleaders are full-fledged athletes. No ifs or maybes.

Last year, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics officially sanctioned cheerleading as a sport, Britt says.

Brenau competes in the NAIA.

"Any squad that competes on the (NCAA) level, there are multiple national championships. Whereas, NAIA is going to be the pioneer, so to speak ,in sanctioning and recognizing cheerleading as a sport and holding its own championships," Britt said.

"That's a huge reason why I wanted to come on board (with the Brenau team). I've been coaching for the last 15 years, so for me and what I do, this is awesome to be a part of.

"When I was in high school and college, cheerleading wasn't recognized as a sport. After coaching these kids for all of these years and seeing how hard they work, to have things evolve to where they are now and to have cheerleaders to finally be recognized as athletes is awesome."