There is plenty for special needs children to cheer about at CheerWorks Sparks in Monroe, MI. Owner Brittany Gessner is proud that her team is the only one of its kind in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, and notes that her force team of special needs kids “brings a spirit to our program that humbles our athletes and unifies our teams together as one.”
Gessner was judging a national Cheer and Dance competition when she saw two special needs teams competing. She vowed to have a team like that at her gym, and she worked for a year doing the research, advertising and staff development necessary to make that happen.
The result of her work: certified coaches who work with any and all children who are “special in any way.” The team members practice on Tuesdays from 6-7:30pm, learning to do two and a half minute routines, working on gross motor skills, self-esteem, team interactions and language skills. Gessner notes that the team’s routines are identical to those performed by the competitive cheer teams, with jumps, motions, dance, and tumbling, but tailored to the group so each athlete can participate to the best of his or her ability. (Yes, there are boy team members!)
Megan Vandyke’s two daughters, both with Asperberger’s, have blossomed in the program.
“Brittany works hard to make this opportunity a life-changing one for children like my daughters. I was worried at first that they wouldn’t succeed, but Brittany encouraged both of them to participate and they love it. Nothing really interested my younger daughter Isabelle, 11, until she gave the cheering a try, and she went from being non-verbal to enjoying being at the top of the pyramid. Her sister Madeline, 13, has taken this opportunity and run with it. She works as a helper now and has graduated up to the next team.
I encourage parents of special-needs children to put aside their worries about their kids being hurt and give this a try. The kids find they can do something fun, and they bond with each other and with their coaches!”
Practices start at CheerWorks Sparks, 14750 LaPlaisance Road in Monroe, MI on September 1.
Participants pay $40/month, with competition fees from $5-20.
419 476-6764, www.sparksignite.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.