Veterans, Houston County high schools win state cheerleading championships

Sun News correspondentNovember 14, 2012 

Two schools from Houston County -- Veterans High School and Houston County High School -- earned their way to the GHSA state cheerleading competition in Columbus Saturday by winning their region.

Both returned home with state championship trophies.

“Last November, after going to state and not being successful in winning state, the girls decided then that it wouldn’t happen again,” said Dana Burress, head coach of the Veterans High cheer program. “They made this decision a year ago and since then have been completely motivated, always with their eyes on the prize of state. This championship is a testament of their commitment and their drive.”

While some schools have cheer teams that combine competition with cheering at football games, Veterans High has a separate competition cheer team that specializes in competitive cheerleading.

Taylor Liszewski, a junior and a member of the Veterans High competition cheer team that won the AAAA state championship, said the state competition last year was the “hardest day of our lives,” but that day helped to ensure this year’s victory.

“We just never forgot that feeling,” Liszewski said. “We never wanted to feel that way again.”

Spending the off season training was key to the Veterans High state victory along with one single-minded purpose.

“We were focused on one main goal together,” said Liszewski.

“Different girls have different talents,” said Brianna Bare, a senior. “We had to come together and win as a team.”

Veterans High participated in eight cheerleading competitions this year and won first place at every one. The squad received 294 points during its performance at the state cheerleading competition; 300 is a perfect score. Nine points separated the team from the second place winner.

“The main thing is that we were lucky enough to have the talent to max out the score sheet,” said Burress. “We also had a lot of comments on our choreography. It included elements that some people said that they had never seen before. Jamie Parrish of Georgia All Stars in Atlanta did our routine, and it was really different, and that helped us to stand out.”

Houston County won the AAAAA state championship. Along with winning state, Houston County had a cheerleader, Halie Manion who was named first runner up for Georgia Cheerleader of the Year.

Manion’s coaches nominated her for the honor. More than 200 senior cheerleaders throughout the state were nominated. Based on her application, which was judged on GPA, community service and school activities, Manion was selected for the top 40. In August, Manion went through a demonstration of her skills and an interview and was selected for the All State Cheer Team. The individual awards, including the winner and first runner up, were announced at the GHSA cheer finals.

“I couldn’t have done it without my coaches and my teammates,” Manion said. “They really helped me with my routine.”

Alyson Keenom, who along with Elizabeth Foster, coaches the Houston County varsity competition team, said the state championship was a direct result of the passion the cheerleaders had for their sport.

“They are just so exciting when they take the floor,” Keenom said. “They draw you in with how sharp and how clean they are. Precision is very important, and that is what pushed us over the top.”

Not only did the Houston County team win state,but in doing so unseated Northgate High School, which had won AAAAA for the past five years.

“That made it a little sweeter, to beat them because they are such a great team. It is a huge accomplishment for us,” said Keenom.

Keenom said the Houston County team spends off season in the gym, working on tumbling and conditioning for strength. Cheerleaders also attend clinics to work on stunts.

“There were some really, really great teams competing,” said Keenom. “We feel very blessed.”

To contact writer Alline Kent, call 396-2467.

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