By Justin Boron

There's more to cheering than rattling pompoms and sparkling bows.

The image of the high school cheerleader can fall into stereotypes easily, but behind the overflowing pep and perk, a strenuous atmosphere of athleticism exists, said Marian Eaton, who coached cheerleading for eight years at North Clayton High School.

More than just bobbing barrettes, the immovable concentration and impassioned preparation of this is comparable to any other spectrum of athletics, said Kay Johnson, the varsity cheerleading coach at North Clayton High School.

"You have to practice just like other sports," she said.

Running laps around the track as well as diligent practicing of the cheers make it a sport, cheerleaders say.

"People think it's not hard to be a cheerleader," said Kristen Tilson, a senior at Jonesboro High School. "It takes a lot of courage and a lot of hard work."

The composition and execution of cheers requires a refined technique, said Julie Collins, the cheerleading coach at Jonesboro High School.

Carefully calibrated vocal shifts in intonation work to build or alleviate anticipation in the crowd, she said.

Cheerleaders also work on breathing exercises aimed at streamlining movement, even down to the slightest flinch, so everything is uniform, Eaton said.

"One person can mess up the whole team if you're not in synch," she said.

The team at North Clayton High School even practices smiling, Eaton said.

"You have to," she said. "Cheerleaders are supposed to be happy."

All of the preparation takes up extensive periods of time, rendering many cheerleaders exhausted.

"When I get home, I just crash," said Lauren McNully, a senior at Jonesboro High School.

On top of energy, cheerleaders give up some of the social benefits of attending the football game, Johnson said.

"There's a lot of sacrifices involved because you can't go and sit with your friends at the games," she said. "Sometimes we don't get out of here until 8 p.m."

Competition between cheerleaders at the games can become intense, said Jasmine Lopez, a junior at North Clayton High School.

"Sometimes we try to call out cheers louder than the other team," she said.

Although no points are handed out for a successful cheer on the football field, the recognition is enough to satisfy at least one cheerleader.

"When we go out there we know we're impressing somebody," Tilson said.