HILLSDALE - The demolition derby now has some steep competition.
For the first time in the Hillsdale County fair's 153-year history, cheerleaders took to the grandstand's stage yesterday to compete in a friendly battle that involved 10 squads.
Their cheers and taped pop music could be heard around the fairgrounds. So could their fans - mainly classmates and family members - who showed up just to cheer them on.
“We just put up flyers to let people know about the competition,” said Tabitha Lambertson, 17, a cheerleader from Reading High School. “They all showed up, and they've taken up several sections.”
The young women and their supporters flocked to the fairgrounds from Hillsdale County and surrounding areas, including Jackson County and Tecumseh in Lenawee County.
Fair officials said they opened up the cheerleading competition - a several-hour event - to students who live in a five-county area. Each participant received a ribbon, while the first, second, and third-place teams in each division were awarded trophies. A spirit award already had been handed out.
The grandstand was nearly packed with people watching the afternoon competition, which was free to fairgoers. Competitors waited to participate atop a concrete divider around the racetrack, while judges sat in chairs placed in the middle of the dirt track.
“Everybody was excited about this,” said Laurie Benzing, the assistant fair director. “As you can see from the crowd, there are more people here than some concert nights.”
Ms. Benzing said board members decided to organize a cheerleading competition after seeing a similar one at the Fulton County fair in Ohio. She said Hillsdale County fair leaders are hoping to at least double the size of their event for next year.
Marcy Moore, the varsity cheerleading coach at Hillsdale High School, said the low-key competition helped her cheerleaders to prepare for a future statewide competition.
“They've just been practicing every night, and on the weekends,” Ms. Moore said.
Ms. Benzing said the fair this year offers many other free events throughout each day. New to the fair this year is a free exotic animal exhibit, sponsored by the local Fifth Third Bank. Fairgoers only will be charged for photos with the animals.
The Hillsdale County fair runs through Saturday.Admission is free today for veterans. School children will be admitted for free todayand tomorrow.
Adults pay $4, while children under 10 are free and children 10 and up $1.