For years, a local young woman with special needs named Morgan (last name withheld for privacy) wanted nothing more than to be a cheerleader. Thanks to UMass Lowell’s cheering squad, she did just that.
The Special Spirit basketball game gives local athletes with special needs the experience of playing sports in college, complete with uniforms and bleachers full of fans. When the organizers asked the University cheerleaders to add to the atmosphere, too, they were all in.
“They asked the team to cheer just like at a River Hawks game,” says coach Kymber Veautor. “The whole team was excited for the opportunity, but we wanted to take it a step further.”
Veautor told the team about Morgan.
“I was ecstatic for the opportunity to cheer with Morgan,” captain Cassie Daley, a forensic chemistry major.
The team welcomed Morgan to a practice before Special Spirit and presented her with an official cheer uniform, which quickly became her favorite outfit. The team planned to teach Morgan a routine for the game, but Morgan came prepared with her own, teaching the team herself.
At the game, Morgan fit right in with the team, cheering on the players and getting the crowd excited.
“People really liked having us cheer at the Special Spirit game, and we all had fun,” says Daley. “Cheering is a way for you to express yourself without having to speak alone, and a means of showing school spirit while helping other athletes achieve their goals. It was really fun to have Morgan with us.”
The experience with Morgan made the team consider other girls and boys who, like Morgan, want to cheer on the team. Creation of the UMass Lowell Big Sister Big Brother Cheerleading program is the natural next step, and the team hopes to make more young cheerleaders with special needs honorary River Hawks each season.
The team will continue reaching out to the community with its annual kids cheer clinic on July 20. Last year’s clinic drew 60 young cheerleaders.
“This is a great opportunity for the kids and for the team,” says Veautor. “We want to dispel the stereotype of the cheerleader and give younger kids role models.”