COLUMBIA — Kenley Conyers has found the secret to Battle's success.
The 7-year-old daughter of head coach Justin Conyers was frustrated towards the end of Battle's 38-33 victory over previously undefeated South Callaway. With 1:27 left in the third quarter, the Bulldogs scored a touchdown to tie up the game at 26-26. The extra point was good. For the first time all night, the Spartans were behind.
Kenley Conyers wasn't about to watch her dad's team lose.
"The teams got ahead of us a couple of times. ... I was mad about that. So then, the end of the game, I just started coloring," she said. "Whenever I color and I don't look, the boys play better."
Get that girl some paper and markers.
She wasn't just on the sidelines this time, either. She took to the field during halftime with 104 other young cheerleaders, all wearing pink shirts. The Battle cheer squad taught a cheerleading clinic for kindergartners through fifth graders on Sept. 28. Most of the young girls showed up to cheer on the field at halftime with their "big sisters" on the Battle cheer squad.
The cheerleaders opened up the September clinic with a showcase of various talents, and the high schoolers were a hit with the young girls.
"They were like celebrities," head coach Corey Cathey said.
Freshman Hannah Godbey is a Battle cheerleader and helped teach the cheer clinic. She led the group with Kenley Conyers and her friend Kaitlyn Ambra, 7, who flashed a wide smile to the crowd as she waved both hands high over her head.
Godbey whispered the cheers with the girls for one last practice before they took the field.
"I've done dance since I was three, so I remember when I was younger looking up to the big girls," Godbey said. "So it was cool being able to be the big girl for them."
The girls returned to the bleachers. During the second half, the Bulldogs scored that first go-ahead touchdown to make it 27-26, but the Spartans answered with a touchdown seconds later.
The Bulldogs scored again to lead 33-32. That's when the Spartans' Jaevon McQuitty got his first touchdown of the season: a 48-yard catch-the-ball, shake-the-defender, run-into-the-endzone play to put the Spartans ahead 38-33.
"For him to come through in the end, in a clutch game, that tight when you're trailing — and he's a freshman — and to make a catch like that," Conyers said of McQuitty. "And not only to make the catch, but to come out of it. And to score, and to finish."
It's what Justin Conyers has been working toward.
"(South Callaway) is a darn good football team, and my hat's off to them. They really gave us fits tonight," Justin Conyers said. "And for us to come out in the end with a victory, and play four quarters as a team and finish, that shows a lot of, you know, growing up that we've done since the beginning of the season. So I'm very proud of my men."
And if the guys are ever nervous in future close games, Kenley Conyers had some advice for dealing with stage fright from her experience on the field as a cheerleader.
"Just act like the crowd's a big marshmallow," she said. "It kind of just looks like, like a big marshmallow, and I'll eat it. And I'll pay attention (to head cheer coach Corey Cathey)."
At the end of the game Kenley Conyers presented her dad with the product of her coloring: a book made of loose leaf paper and written in bright markers.
"It says, like, you're the best dad in the whole world. Good coaching," she said. "It was just writing and then a picture of the first game when they dumped ice on his head."
And her dad, of course, appreciated her support.
"She loves football. I didn't think that she would," Justin Conyers said. "But she loves what I love, is what's happening right now."