Hello! Let me introduce myself. I am Nancy Wiley, one of the coaches for the Cheer Squad out of Notre Dame School of Dallas.
Notre Dame is the only school exclusively devoted to educating students who are mild to moderately intellectually disabled. The enrollment is 150 students ranging from 6 to 21 years of age who can participate in many Special Olympics sports including bowling, flag football, volleyball, basketball, soccer and track. The cheerleading program started back in 2002 with several different coaches along the way and hand-me-down uniforms that were way too big for the girls who wanted to be a cheerleader.
In November 2008 (when the cheer coach did not show up for an event and told the principal she quit being the coach) the principal asked if I wanted to oversee the cheerleaders. I told her that I would help the assistant coach (Missy) anyway I could and within an hour we both had an e-mail stating “Thank you both for volunteering to help with cheerleading, please get the girls’ measurements and order uniforms!”.
So, in January 2009, we started with 28 girls and new uniforms that fit each girl and through the years we have lost and added girls to the squad. We also added two boys to the squad about three years ago. For the upcoming school year the squad will have about 20 cheerleaders with ages ranging from 12 to 21. We have weekly practices through February, and every summer we have a week long cheer camp. From the beginning, Missy and I have treated this squad as a NORMAL Cheer Squad, fitting with one of the school slogans, “no limits ~ just possibilities.”
The NDS Cheer Squad cheers at many our school’s Special Olympics games; flag football and volleyball in the fall, and basketball (four to five teams) in the winter. We also perform at The Down Syndrome Buddy Walk in November, March for Respect in March and at all of our school pep rallies. One day my goal is to get the cheerleaders out to cheer on the soccer and track team. Basketball season is our busiest time of the year; it starts off the second weekend in January and goes to the end of February with 3 Basketball tournaments. With having four to five basketball teams at NDS we cheer at least one game for each team pre-tournament. So in one day we may cheer at five games plus doing opening ceremonies.
I could not do this coaching job without the help of my sidekick Missy Ruvaldt. We were never in cheerleading growing up, so we came into this job with a notebook of cheers that were passed down from previous coaches as well as internet searches of different cheer motions where we teach the girls the movements. At our first cheer camp we asked the girls to come up with some new cheers and WOW! The next day all 25 girls came with cheers that moms/sisters helped with or some they made up all by themselves. And to this day we are still using some of those cheers. We also have two cheer dances we do to the songs “Firework” and “Safe and Sound”.
Opposing teams often ask us: “Are your cheerleaders coming to cheer today?” and if the answer is “no”, usually the responses are “Oh, we were hoping they would be here. We love to see them perform and cheer at the games”. So, our plan for the new cheer year is “we are going even if we only have two cheerleaders!”.
As I stated earlier we try to treat the squad as a ‘NORMAL’ cheer squad, if there is a normal way a squad is supposed to be run. We do not see the disabilities the students have we just see them as teenagers and young adults.