BENTON, Ark. – A Benton cheerleading team has taught a valuable lesson about inclusion and acceptance with its cheer abilities team. Each athlete on the Empire Inspire Cheerleading team has special needs, but that did not stop them from learning a full cheerleading routine.
“It makes me feel very proud because she does as much as she can do that the other kids are doing. She just may look a little different,” Marti Sparks said.
Sparks’ daughter is in a wheelchair and for the first time in her life, she felt a sense of belonging.
“It took us forever to find things that she can do to keep her occupied and she just loves cheer,” Sparks said. “She gets to get out of the house. She gets to be in a group of friends that accept her.”
Last weekend, Empire Inspire got to compete for the first time at a national competition in Dallas.
“We do this cause we love it and just watching the kids and their excitement when they get a new skill or when we hit our routine finally, it’s just cool,” Empire Program Director and Coach Daniel Allen said. “I feel like the reward is just seeing the smile on their face.”
For the parents, their reward was watching their sons and daughters grow confidence and leadership skills.
“It helps her have a sense of accomplishment, knowing she can do something that she normally wouldn’t be able to do,” Lee Crow, parent, said.
“A lot of them when they come in they’re just scared to death and not independent at all and this has really grown them to be independent,” Sparks said.
The team had a top 10 finish at nationals in Dallas.