Teamwork, toughness and hours of practice lead up to one moment for cheer leading squads. Nailing the routine and hearing the roar of the crowd is a rush for every team, but especially the “Shooting Stars” of Urbandale. They’ve had to work harder and overcome more hurdles than most to get here. Mark Bagon is the head coach. “We have thirteen teams here, but we’ve never had a special needs team before.” And they probably never would have if it weren’t for Julie McKibben. “I just talked to him last spring and said – why aren’t we doing this?!” His answer was basically – ‘I don’t know?… why aren’t we?’.
Within weeks the Special Education teacher and the coach joined forces, inviting local kids to a week-long camp in June. Parent Holly Killam says she thought the pair was totally insane, and she wasn’t alone. A lot of parents – and even the organizers – weren’t sure what to expect. “The majority of the kids did not know how to tumble,” Mark explains, “they couldn’t do a forward roll, couldn’t attempt a cartwheel, they just didn’t have coordination or the strength. In fact, a lot of the kids when they came here were ‘ground bound’ – their feet couldn’t leave the ground besides walking.”
Holly’s daughter Katie was one of those “ground bound” kids. “Five months ago she couldn’t jump. Now she can jump about a foot and a half off the ground and she’s smiling. She loves to come to cheer leading.” It’s a major milestone for a young woman diagnosed with eleven different disorders. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in tears, knowing the gains she’s made over her lifetime, because her life has been one hurdle after another. At ten months old, she couldn’t sit up, she couldn’t crawl, so we went to the doctor and they said, she’ll never walk. That was the first hurdle she knocked over. The second one was they said she won’t talk and she knocked that hurdle over.”
Many hurdles have been cleared with the help of people like Julie. “One thing we think about with our kids with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities are adaptations, that way they can come in here and participate. For instance, this is a clock that’s typically used for people with autism. It helps our kiddos that struggle with transitions so they know how much time is left, when is this going to be over. That way there are no surprises and they understand what’s going on every step of the way.”
Other members of the “Shooting Stars” team. are there for every step, stunt and smile. “They’re a lot of fun,” says Addy Sammons, “they make my day so much better. If I have a bad day at school, I come to cheer and they just brighten my day. They’re so much fun to work with.”
Claire’s the youngest – she’s nine. Lindsay’s the oldest – at 29. Cheer leading isn’t Davidson’s thing, so he’s the team manager. Will’s favorite thing is the tumbling. “It feels great,” he says, “I think about it as all stars! We did our tumbling and I did a cartwheel!”
So about those hurdles… they’re easy to clear when there’s someone helping you. It just takes teamwork and toughness, and hours of practice. All for this one moment
If you know someone who might be interested in getting involved with the “Shooting Stars” squad, visit the gym’s website.