Cleburne cheerleaders

The Cleburne County varsity cheerleaders perform during a recent ball game. The team won a national award in December. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

HEFLIN — The Cleburne County High School varsity cheerleaders have so much spirit that they won an award for it.

Varsity Brands, a national organization which recognizes schools, groups and individuals, awarded the Spirit Leader award last month to the Cleburne cheer squad.

Kelly Payton, the cheerleaders’ coach, said the award is perfect for her squad who have adopted a “we culture” as their identity.

“It’s where ‘we,’ not one, where everybody here supports everybody,” Payton said.

Payton said that her cheerleaders cheer at every game and pep rallies but more importantly, they try to bring the community in.

Last October the city of Heflin hosted the first “Homecoming on Main,” which Payton said was a big factor in helping the team win the award. Homecoming on Main combined the annual tradition of a high school homecoming with special downtown Heflin attractions.

Payton received help from a host of city officials, the school’s principal, teachers and coaches.

“I can’t be prouder. This team has had adversity. We started off with 17 kids and we have 12 now; we had some quit on us this season,” Payton said.

Payton feared that the reduced numbers might not bode well for area cheering competitions, but the squad bucked the odds and won a regional competition in November in Hanceville.

Varsity Brands gave the cheerleaders $3,000 as part of the award and is helping to pay for some of the girls to go to a national cheerleading competition in Orlando next month.

One of Cleburne’s cheerleaders, Macey Cooper, 16, said she is very grateful for the award.

“I feel like all of our hard work has paid off for this award,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the national cheerleader competition, which she said both varsity and junior varsity girls will attend next month at Disney World, should promote team bonding and makes the team stronger.

Another cheerleader, Marissa Roberts,14, said she felt pride that all of their hard work paid off.

“We pushed through the hard times and persevered,” Roberts said.

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.