I wouldn’t have expected three of my kids to be into cheerleading but they are. They really love it.
Maya was first – she’s been training at a local cheer facility for a year. She’s the most proficient at back handsprings, tucks, roundoff back handsprings, roundoff multiples, connection passes, front aerials, punch fronts, front and back walkovers, cartwheels, layouts and basket tosses.
Devina and Bryant are now on board too. Devina’s small size makes her a favorite with her teammates and Bryant’s athleticism and gender work to his advantage. Maya describes her team as her “second family” – she said she really feels like she belongs to something – and Bryant and Devina, who enrolled just last month, look forward to the daily practices as much as Maya does.
It didn’t take me long to realize how good this experience is for the kids. (Anybody who thinks today's cheerleading is not a sport requiring practice, teamwork, conditioning, strength, stamina and attitude probably thinks Dubya was a good president too.) Although it’s costly, the benefits they receive from participating in this activity justify the expense.
Maybe this is why I was so repulsed to read that the Elgin School District in north-central Ohio is refusing to allow a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome to participate in her middle school’s cheerleading program – even though she cheered with her team from fourth through sixth grade.
“We didn’t want her to take a spot away from the typical cheerleaders,” the girl’s mother, Robin Williams, told a local reporter. “We just wanted her to feel like she belongs.”
This is why she proposed that her daughter, Alli, be allowed to join the other girls out on the field as an honorary cheerleader for one or two cheers – or even as cheer manager. School officials denied the request on the grounds that it wouldn’t be fair and are now hiding behind an attorney.
How would you like to have to be the one to explain to Alli why she can’t cheer anymore? What would you say?
Fortunately there’s a nonprofit organization that helps students across the country to create cheerleading and dance teams in middle schools, high schools and colleges that include students with disabilities. The Sparkle Effect provides starter kits, peer mentoring, on-site training and even grants for uniforms. Their website states that they’re “not about perfection, they’re about connection.” Maybe they can help Allie since the local professionals who are charged with doing so are failing.
I’ve attended cheerleading competitions for Maya that have included teams of special needs kids. I’m pleased to report that the applause was always thunderous when these teams finished their routines. Thankfully, spectators seem to agree that all kids deserve to feel confidence and joy, not just the “normal” ones.