SHOREWOOD – Brenda Smith proudly watched earlier this month as her granddaughter Dymond cheered and did cartwheels during a Special Olympics basketball game at Troy Crossroads Elementary School.
Dymond Smith is part of the Special Olympics cheerleading squad that began this year in the Troy School District to give special education students the opportunity to cheer for home basketball games. The squad has four students who learned how to cheer, use pom-poms and do cartwheels.
Dymond joined the team because she likes to tumble and is a natural gymnast, Brenda Smith said.
“This is something she just wanted to do. She loves it,” Smith said.
Dymond, along with Megan Arnold and Madison Dixon, appeared at the Dec. 19 basketball game to cheer in front of Special Olympic student athletes and audience members. The Troy students were facing the Little Lion basketball team from the Lily Cache Special Recreation Association in Bolingbrook.
Before practice, coaches Staci Dahlberg, Alex Pokorny and Brittany Lys helped team members practice their routine.
“It is so great. The girls absolutely love it,” said Dahlberg, who works as a counselor.
Pokorny and Lys work as special education teachers for the district.
The idea for a Special Olympics cheerleading squad came about last year when a rival school had its own Special Olympics cheerleaders, Dahlberg said. Troy School District officials were on board with having one too, she said.
“I think we’re going to see how the first year goes. Even though we have only four girls I think it was a big hit,” Dahlberg said.
Troy has a Special Olympics program open to students 8 to 14 years old, according to the district’s website. To participate, students must 8 years old by the time of the culminating event for the program. Students also must hold a current Individualized Education Plan and follow basic sportsmanship and rules.
The program offers students the chance to play sports, such as basketball and track and field.
During the Dec. 19 game, Dahlberg, Pokorny and Lys practiced cheers with Arnold and Dixon.
“Let’s go, Trojans! Let’s go!” they said in unison.
“Defense, Trojans! Defense!”
Parents whose children are part of the cheerleading squad have enjoyed watching them have opportunities they wouldn’t normally have, Dahlberg said.
Arnold’s family members said she loves being on the squad.
“She loves her friends on the squad,” said Jim Arnold, her father.
Jim Arnold said his daughter played on a basketball team but she wanted to try her hand as a cheerleader. He said she’s very sociable, likes to have fun and participate. Being on the squad has helped her feel more confident, he said.
“This is so great that they do this,” he said.
Dahlberg said she hopes to create more awareness about Special Olympics cheerleading so more students want to join the squad.