Young people with special needs are often looked at differently. Too often, people see
what they cannot do. As a result, they are offered few opportunities to play in sports or
participate in social activities with normally developing peers. Cheerleading is very popular
among children and teens in the Quad Cities; however, as recently as last summer, our
community offered no opportunities for children with disabilities to participate in cheerleading.
This past July, the Pleasant Valley
Cheerleaders created and developed their own Special Needs Cheerleading Squad, the Spartan
Sparkles. The squad currently consists of eight girls, ages eight to fourteen, with disabilities
ranging from Down Syndrome to Autism.
Cheerleading is wonderful exercise: it requires aerobic stamina, strength, balance,
rhythm, and flexibility. The Special Olympics organization said it best: Children with disabilities
who participate in cheerleading as a Special Olympics sport develop improved physical fitness
and motor skills, greater self confidence and a more positive self image. They grow mentally and
socially through their activities, exhibit boundless courage and enthusiasm, enjoy the rewards of
friendship, and ultimately discover not only new abilities and talents, but “their voice” as well.