A lifetime of hard work and determination came to fruition this weekend for one Dawson County student.
Dawson County High School Senior Summer Sanders was named Georgia Cheerleader of the Year this weekend at the Georgia High School Association state finals in competitive cheerleading in Columbus.
"I wasn't expecting at all to be in the top positions. There were a lot of girls that brought a lot of talent to the floor," Sanders said. "When they announced the runner-up, I was thinking ‘There's no way. She had to have been the best.' When they said my name, my mouth was wide open and I said ‘I don't know what to do!' I was so shocked. It's still overwhelming."
Sanders has been cheering since she was 8 years old.
Cheerleader of the Year is open only to seniors in high school. In order to be considered, potential selections must fill out an application and write an essay. The top 40 applicants are then required to make their own routine and are scored as any troupe would be. Then, the top 16, who are the members of the all-state team, compete for the number one position.
The winner of the competition receives scholarships to their college of choice.
"I definitely plan to cheer in college," Sanders said. "I'm looking at three schools. There's a school in Texas where cheerleading is considered a sport and I can get on the cheer program there."
This is Head Coach Kim Fleming's first state winner.
"Summer is one of the most dedicated athletes I have ever coached. In her four years of high school cheerleading, she never missed a practice, event, community service or competition," Fleming said. "She works hard during the season and out of season and has outstanding leadership skills."
Fleming said she has coached Sanders since she was nine years old.
"Coach Kim is like a second mom to me, so this is just as much of a big deal for her as it is for me," Sanders said.
Sanders said that she would not be the person she is today without cheering.
"It taught me how to work with people and how to overcome the impossible," she said. "It has taught me how to be a mature adult and how to handle wins and losses in a respectable manner."
She said that it also helped teach her that, despite how cliché something sounds, it does not make it any less true.
"Cheerleading has taught me to cheer on everyone and to always look on the positive side of things," she said. "That sounds so cliché, but it really did. It taught me to smile, even when things are bad."
Finally, Sanders said cheerleading has also taught her to keep things separate and not let bad days get in the way of succeeding.
"We have an expression to keep things off the mat. If you've had a bad day, you can't let it affect your practices," she said. "I use that for everyday life, especially with school. I know that I can't let other things get in the way of my future.
Sanders said that, overall, it's not about the flipping and cheering, but in the hard work she has put into it.
"Winning cheerleader of the year, to me, shows that it's more than a cheerleader being a cheerleader. It's more than just flipping and being cute," she said. "You have to go through all of the application processes and the interviews and they are looking for well-rounded girls that can represent themselves well."