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School spirit soars as playoffs begin
Hoops hopes high at Central, West
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Forsyth Central cheerleader Lilly Long decorates the locker room of the girls' basketball team, which plays in the state tournament tonight. - photo by Jennifer Sami

When it comes to spirit, cheerleaders have got it.

But with two local prep basketball teams heading to the state tournament -- one for the first time in school history -- they’re not alone.

“Going to state for basketball is a big deal,” said Lilly Long, a senior at Forsyth Central. “It hasn’t happened that often ... and by increasing the school spirit, it makes us stand out in our community.”

The Lady Bulldogs (22-6), making their second consecutive postseason appearance, will travel to Cobb County to face Pope High at 7 tonight in the Class AAAA opening round.

Joining Central's girls in the playoffs this weekend is the boys team from West Forsyth, a fourth-year program which is making its postseason debut.

The Wolverines of Class AAAAA, who like Central are a No. 3 seed, will face Archer High in Lawrenceville. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.

Long, a cheerleader, will be doing her part to encourage her Central classmates.

“We’re always there behind them, encouraging them and cheering them on,” she said. “It keeps them positive.”

It’s a little more personal for Jessie Caudill, senior at West. The cheerleader is dating Conner King, a key member of the basketball team.

“It’s been exciting being at the games and getting to cheer him on and seeing him do good,” she said. “It’s so much fun to be able to paint signs and cheer on your team.

“I have confidence in them and I think they can go out there and win it.”

The season for West (8-17) hasn’t always looked so positive, but the team went on a run in the Region 6-AAAAA tournament to earn a state berth.

Cheerleader Katie Greenwood knows all too well about West's season. As a former basketball player whose mother coaches the sport, “I get really into it.”

“I’ve done this all four years of high school and to actually go to state my senior year and support the boys I’ve been supporting all four years is just so cool ... and to see the progress and growth they’ve made as a team,” she said.

Greenwood said it seems as if she may have had more confidence in the Wolverines than they did in themselves.

“They can win any game they want to, it’s just whether they want to or not. They are a really good team,” she said. “I’m just glad they finally believed in themselves.”

The story for the girls from Central is somewhat different.

In 2010, the Lady Bulldogs advanced to the state playoffs for the first time in 25 years.

They got knocked out in the first round, but the cheerleaders are hoping this year's postseason stay will be longer.

Alyssa Bagley, a junior, said the team's performance could help bolster attendance at games. It has already sparked more spirit.

“It makes us proud of our school,” she said.

The spirit has spread beyond the cheerleaders to a group called the Central Crazies. The students, who dress up for games, likely will be in fine form -- and fashion -- for tonight's game.

“They come to almost every one of our games,” she said.

Bagley cheered during last year’s basketball state tournament and said she could feel the higher stakes.

“The intensity of it, being up close and everything ... there’s more pressure, I think,” she said.

“We cheer a lot more and are into it a little bit more because we want them to win and we want them to do good.”