HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - As the number one visited National Park in the nation, plenty of people in the Tennessee Valley pick Gatlinburg for family vacations or go there for conferences and competitions.
While the flames may be miles away, the painful images hit home.
“We’re taking 50 families for a cheer competition," says Tina Jones, the Director of Cheerleading for The Matrix.
It takes flexibility to be a cheerleader, but in this case, the all-stars from The Matrix are flexing a different kind of muscle. “Right there on the main strip where a lot of this is taking place is where we’re going to be competing on Saturday and Sunday," says Jones.
She's still waiting to hear from the competition's organizers whether the event is still on for this weekend, but even if it is, she isn't sure if her squad will go. "Out of respect for the families, I’m not really sure it’s something we want to do. They’re suffering I’m sure," she says.
Catherine Stark was also heading for the Smokies this weekend. “My Facebook, this whole month, has been a countdown to how many sleeps we had left until the trip to Gatlinburg," says Stark.
Her cabin is actually in Sevierville, away from the fires, and didn't meet the same fate as so many around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but she's been unable to reach the booking office located in Gatlinburg.
“Until we hear they’re not letting people in, we’re still planning on going," she says.
Catherine says she knows that decision may not be popular, but it's not for the reason many may think.
“If they’re open, we need to go in there, we need to let them know that we’re sorry, offer our condolences, and if it’s nothing but buying a candy stick, we need to be there for them," she says.
While Tina may be upset after preparing her squad for this competition since September, it's all about being flexible.
“In the bigger picture of things, it’s cheerleading, these families are much more important," says Jones.