Big crowds bring big money and big traffic downtown during cheerleading competition

ATLANTA — Only a little more than half the normal crowd showed up in 2021 for the CHEERSPORT National All-Star Cheerleading Championship as the pandemic was still in full play. That crowd included nearly 30,000 competitors and families and it put a ding on downtown businesses starving for crowds and the money that comes with them.

According to event organizers, the 2022 event will not have that problem as some 55,000 young girls, their coaches and their parents, along with some fans, have swarmed downtown Atlanta this weekend, bringing lots of money and lots of enthusiasm.

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The event organizers said that just by holding the competition, it was a huge boost to the young girls who compete in the competitions.

“Last year it was just your team and your supporters your parents and that was it,” said cheer parent Richard Jackson.

This year, nearly the entire Georgia World Congress Center will be packed Saturday and Sunday, ringing with the excited shouting of kids showing their spirit. Their parents will be there too, spending money in nearby restaurants, hotels and shops.

Channel 2′s Michele Newell spoke with Bill Seely, the president of Varsity Spirit, the group behind this and many other regional competitions. Seely said that it’s official-- they are back. He also said that even with the larger crowds, they are still following all state and local venue recommendations to protect everyone from potential exposure to COVID-19.

“Big difference from last year to this year,” Seely said. “This year is back to normal, everyone is here. The kids are all here, the live audience is here.”

Drashauna Hutchins is a concessionaire at the Congress Center, she was excited to see all the people milling about through the building.

“This is really the biggest show we have had post-pandemic, so we were expecting a big crowd and we got a big crowd,” Hutchins said. “This is a revenue boost for us. We prepare for weeks for this show.”

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Newell spoke with Melanie Hill, who has a daughter competing during the weekend. She said her daughter Lauren is excited to be back in front of an actual audience and to be back with her friends.

“We’re very excited, it’s been a tough two years,” Melanie Hill said.

“I think it’s really fun because I’ve just been home all of the time and it’s super fun to just get out of the house,” Lauren Hill said.

“It’s very important. It’s been mentally tough for them being out of school and even being back in school with the shortage of teachers and students having to quarantine,” Melanie said. “It’s important for them to be with their friends.”

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According to Seely, the event brings in millions of dollars to the Atlanta economy. He said the 2021 event brought nearly $19 million to the area. He believes this year that number will grow to over $36 million.

“It’s a great impact for Atlanta,” Seely said. “Last year we had concession workers that were laid off during COVID that were coming up to us and thanking us for coming back.”

There’s a charity component in play here too. The cheerleading teams compete to raise money for charity. They’ve been raising money since September for St. Jude’s Hospital. By late Friday night, they passed their goal by raising over $90,000.