Special Needs Students Find their Place on Local Cheer Team

By: Catherine Crane Email
By: Catherine Crane Email

One local cheer team is going beyond acceptance.

They say the only way to have a friend is to be one and these 13 and 14 year-old's are doing just that.

In a world where everyone is different, the cheerleader at Cheer and Dance Express are celebrating their similarities.

"We both have a brother and we love to jump on the trampoline," said Alli O'Shea, standing next to her friend.

Hannah Howeter added, "She likes chocolate, I love chocolate too, we have a lot of things in common."

"We just like having fun with them and there not very different than us," said Sarah Sieps.

Alli also said, "We're all best friends."

"I actually have a cousin Natalie, who is one of the members of the sunshine cheer team and she loved coming to our gym and watching our students practice," said Courtney Capoun, the Assistant Director of Cheer and Dance Express. "She really just wanted to get involved somehow."

The Sunshine Cheerleaders Preformed Sunday afternoon at the Autism Awareness Walk. Natalie Yontz's mother Joyce was in the audience.

"She loves it. She gets in front of thousands of people and performs and she loves it and she gets to feel like she's part of a group," she said.

But the Sunshine Cheer Team is about more than just cheer leading.

"We go to school with each other and ever since we met each other we like sit together at the lunch table and we say hi when we see each other between classes and we just like to talk.. She does," Alli said.

"It's way bigger than cheer leading these girls who help out are amazing and they do they treat these girls, they just bring them into their circle and some of their friends they really just open up to them," added Joyce.

While the girls on the competition team are teaching their buddies cheers, they've learned a thing or two in return.

One of the cheerleaders Courtney said, "They have learned so many things they've learned how to be a good friend they've leaned how to be a good mentor. It's been challenging sometimes, sometimes their buddy doesn't always want to cooperate and do the things at practice."

"It's much more than cheer leading it teaches them compassion, it teaches them empathy and it teaches them that its ok if people are different," said Joyce. "They still have the same feelings that you do and they want to be part of a group."

Joyce says it's opened new doors for Natalie.

"This had led her to want to do other things she's doing tennis now she's doing swimming now this is what opened the door for her to feel comfortable to do other things."

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