Sisters in spirit

North Augusta High School's varsity cheerleaders are more than dedicated athletes. They are a sisterhood.

About 40 girls tried out in the spring. The 16 girls who made the team started practicing in August.

They practice every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon from August to February -- from the start of football season to the end of basketball season. They practice three hours each week, not counting the running and stretching beforehand.

The girls give up at least four hours of their Friday nights for home games to cheer on their classmates on the field. For away games, they can spend two hours on the bus.

Practices, games and travel time equates to roughly 83 hours, not counting pep rallies, painting fans before games and more.

Coach Cindy Cawthon views cheerleading as a performing art.

It is also extremely athletic, she said. "What other athlete has to lift up a teammate over their head?"

The teammates must trust each other. Four cheerleaders lift a teammate above their heads, supporting her by her ankle, before tossing her high into the air and catching her.

They get ready together, often sharing meals before, and sometimes after, games and practices.

They giggle on the bus together to and from away games for hours at times.

Senior Taylor Burckhalter said the team is "like a family," and in a lot of ways they are.

Their coach agrees.

"With all the squabbling and love for each other, they are everything that a family dynamic has," Cawthon said.

The football season ended with a playoff loss Nov. 14. The team finished with a 7-5 record.

The 10-week basketball season starts Dec. 4, and with it, the cheerleaders' practices, travel and games will begin again.

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