In 2014, Becky Lowe was instrumental in bringing a much-needed cheerleading program to Brunswick High School. Her daughter, Katie, is a cheerleader on the autism spectrum whose passion for the sport inspired other girls to step up and shine beside her. Now, the Sparkle Squad is lighting up the football field with their talents.
Becky took a moment to answer a few questions about the program and the young leaders who make it a success.
Q: What is the Sparkle Squad, and how did it get started?
A: A Sparkle Squad is a cheerleading squad which practices inclusion by having typically developing cheerleaders teach and cheer with cheerleaders who are differently-abled. The typical girls break down cheers in order to teach them, they assist and modify cheers for girls who need accommodations and they help create an environment that reinforces inclusion in the schools. We were able to start the Sparkle Squad in 2014.
Q: Are there other local sparkle squads?
A: YES! Medina and Highland both have Sparkle Squads! We actually had an opportunity to do a cheer camp with all of our schools in 2015.
Q: I know Katie was a driving force behind this project. What got her into cheerleading?
A: Katie’s interest began with a movie – The Goonies! Katie’s favorite character, Andy, was a cheerleader in the movie and Katie wanted to be like Andy. Oh, and there was a boy on the football team who Katie had a crush on and I am sure that played role in her excitement for cheering!
Mrs. Vasu at Willetts Middle School was Katie’s first coach. She had Katie as a student in her science class and felt comfortable with Katie and encouraged her. I am sure at first Katie’s peers were confused and surprised. But I believe her coach, Mrs. Vasu, helped answer their questions and encouraged them to include Katie to the best of her ability.
Q: How many girls are involved in the Squad? How many parents/coaches?
A: Our numbers have varied with the first year starting with only 5 girls and ending that season with 7. In 2015-16, we had 10 girls and this past football season we had 6 girls. We always have 10-15 girls from the varsity and jv squad who practice with our girls two times a week. Our coach, Cassi Jaeger, is a Special Needs teacher at the high school which helps because she usually already knows most of the girls who want to join the squad. Since the squad began, I have worked as Miss Jaeger’s to help make this squad possible.
Q: Were you aware that programs like this existed before you became an advocate to bring Sparkle Squad to BHS?
A: I had actually become aware of the program and thought it would be something Brunswick should develop. Katie was cheering with the typical squad at that time, but I was sure there were other girls like Katie who wanted to cheer, too.
Q: What kind of feedback have you received from the cheerleaders?
A: Watching the friendships develop between the typical girls and those with special needs was really amazing. Usually the first few practices each year were awkward, but once the girls got to know each other, real friendships developed. They sought each other out during the school day, they texted each other and shared inside jokes at practice. A few of the typical girls shared that they wanted to become teachers and work with special needs students.
I think I loved every Friday night when I got to see my daughter and her friends beaming under those lights at games, but I think walking Katie out on the field on Senior Night was one of my favorite events.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: One thing I was always aware of these last few years is that statistically, one or more of these typical girls working with my daughter would grow up and become a parent of a child with special needs. My hope is that when her child is diagnosed, she remembers this experience and knows there is hope.