Year after year, cheerleaders prove that you don’t have to be an adult to change the world. Sarah Cronk and Sarah Herr, two varsity cheerleaders from Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, are two examples of young people making a difference. The cheerleading duo started “The Sparkle Effect,” a nonprofit organization that influences high school students across the United States to develop cheerleading squads for students with special needs. The organization has been a success, and the co-presidents say they have experienced “a stream of small miracles.”
You may remember Pleasant Valley Cheerleaders as the 2008 American School Spirit Award Winners. Going above and beyond in academics, school spirit, and community service wasn’t enough for some of their squad members. The Sarahs, along with three other members of their squad, formed their own Special Needs cheerleading team for their community. The “Spartan Sparklers,” includes members with special needs from autism to Down syndrome.
The goal of this program is not only to start special needs teams, as there are already many of them throughout the country, but to have these teams interact with their peers by becoming a part of the varsity team at school sporting events. On their website, Sarah and Sarah explain, “Students with disabilities don’t just want to cheer, they want to fit in. They want to stand on the football field and on the basketball court side by side with their peers and show their school spirit.”
With that as their mission statement, the PVHS Spartan varsity cheerleaders have included the Spartan Sparkler special needs cheerleaders as part of their squad. During the season, the varsity cheerleaders practice with their Sparklers two times a week, and at each home football and basketball game, they cheer with the varsity team one full quarter.
By starting The Sparkle Effect, these two go-getters hope to reach out not just to cheerleading squads but to all mainstream sports programs in high schools. “We know that this wave of goodness that started with ten special girls practicing in the cafeteria and then swept across our high school and town, could quickly and easily reach into virtually every high school in the country. We believe that the time has come from high schools nationwide to make more room at the table for students with special needs.”
– Andrea Tatum LeTard