The Mary Free Bed All Stars Adaptive Cheerleading team boasts enthusiasm and spirit to spare. The newest team organized by Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports is made up of enthusiastic young athletes with physical or cognitive impairments that prevent participation in able-bodied cheer.
“A cheerleading team was a missing piece of our program, and it has fit in so well,” said coordinator Alicia Hass. “It is a program that is going to thrive and complement our other programs.”
The growing team began weekly practices in October and cheers at local WAS games and tournaments as well as some high school events.
“For most of these girls, this is the first opportunity they have had to cheer with a team. It allows them to stay physically active and create friendships,” Hass said. “It’s especially exciting to see the girls uniting and working together despite their differences. The group is supportive and respectful.”
Five girls between the ages of 13 and 16 currently make up the team, but girls or boys 10 to 18 years old are welcome to join. During a typical practice, led by coach Kensey Heys and volunteer Kaitlyn Tindall, the team works to improve motor skills, develop cheer knowledge and work together as a team.
Fourteen-year-old Cheyenne Compton, who developed spastic diplegic cerebral palsy after being born premature, is a member of the new team. Though her disability is not immediately apparent, she has some balance and processing issues, as well as hearing and sight conditions, said her mother, Carla.
Cheyenne already had cheer experience when she joined the All Stars; she cheered in fifth and sixth grade for youth football through Northview Public Schools.
“As a parent with a child who has an ‘invisible’ disability, I love that the All Stars cheer squad provides positive reinforcement for their hard work and that it builds confidence in the girls through the interaction with the crowd,” Carla Compton said. “I also love that it has allowed Cheyenne to use her leadership skills, which, in turn, builds her self-confidence.”
Hass said it’s been “awesome” to watch Cheyenne help lead the new team.
“Her prior experience cheering with her school allowed her to be a mentor to the group,” Hass said.
Cheyenne said it has been an honor; “It is fun and I have met new friends, too!”
The All Stars is one of 16 teams offered through Mary Free Bed’s Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports program, one of the largest programs of its kind in the United States.
Practices are held at the Mary Free Bed YMCA, 5500 Burton St. SE. Anyone interested in joining should call 616.840.8356 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.