After volunteering at the Special Olympics, high school cheerleader Sarah Herr and her teammate, Sarah Cronk, approached their coach with an idea. They wanted to create a cheerleading squad that included girls with special needs. "I wanted to make the connection with the special needs community more permanent," Sarah Herr says.
Since then, Bettendorf, Iowa, has been home to the Spartan Sparkles! This new squad includes girls ages 8 to 15 who were born with a range of developmental disabilities, from autism to Down syndrome. This program is the first of its kind at a high school.
Watch the Sparkles in action!
Now, girls who would otherwise be on the sidelines have people cheering them on. Parents of these cheerleaders say their daughters are blossoming. "They have given them the opportunity to be who they are and have the community and everyone accept them," says Dawn, a Sparkle mother. "It's not disability. It's ability. It's what they can do."
Sarah Herr says she always thought the Sparkles would become friends, but she didn't realize they would become like a family. "We learned to see the person, not the disability," she says. "It's really given all of us a powerful voice. We've learned that even though we're teenagers, we can really make things happen."