Published in print and online at The Loomis News September 16, 2010
A special needs cheerleading team is taking athletics in Loomis to a new level this year at One Athletics, a new training facility.
The program is the only one of its kind in Loomis, and draws athletes from as far away as Folsom, said One Athletics owner Gail Herring. Herring said she and the coaches at the facility were inspired to start a special needs team after witnessing such teams perform at previous competitions.
“We see the special needs teams perform and it is unbelievable,” Herring said. “The whole competition stops, and it unites everybody.”
When One Athletics moved from Roseville to their current Loomis location this year, Herring said, the time seemed right to begin the new program. The facility fully sponsors the team; the athletes train and compete without charge.
The team, which is comprised of individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities from ages 9 to 23, will participate in their first competition in December. Coach Misty Wade said the team is working very hard to prepare for the upcoming competition, put on by the United Spirit Association at the University of California, Davis on Dec. 5.
Wade said that her team’s progress can be attributed to their work ethic.
“They are so eager to learn,” she said. “They pick it up really fast, and then go home and practice it. They’re super committed, and they all really want to be here.”
The team’s routines consist mostly of basic cheerleading skills, including somersaults and very small pyramids. The team focuses on impressing the judges with spirit and enthusiasm.
Cheer and tumbling coach Christina Gutierrez, whose brother-in-law is a member of the special needs team, said the athletes embody the true spirit of cheerleading.
“Sometimes in competitive cheerleading we lose the focus of just wanting to have fun,” she said. “It’s humbling to be with a team who just wants to be here.”
For many of the athletes, cheering is about more than just the sport. Joining the team allows the cheerleaders to form relationships within their community.
Nancy Muir said she enrolled her daughter Mackenzie in the program in part to help her socialize with others. “We wanted to connect her with other kids who have similar needs,” Muir said.
Mackenzie has formed friendships with her teammates and is proud of her new team, Muir said.
When asked what their favorite part of cheerleading is, Mackenzie and several of her teammates shouted “the trampoline!” Cheerleader Alyssa Spillane said she most enjoys “making friends.”
Herring said the special needs cheerleaders have become an important part of the facility’s family and bring an upbeat spirit to practices. “I love watching them walk in the door,” she said. “I love what it does for them.”
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