Monday, October 28, 2013

Challenger Cheer Squad: How I Grow My Heart

Update: As of 10/31/2013, our team goal has been met and exceeded. We are so grateful for all the support that has been given to our team. If you still feel like you want to sponsor a special needs squad, there are Pop Warner leagues all over the country, please follow the link below to our national website and consider searching for a team in your local area. We will always need sponsors so keep us in mind for next year as well. In the last week, I have already heard from three new girls who want to join our squad for next year so our need will be even greater if we are invited to compete at the Regional level again. We want every child with special needs to have the chance to participate. Again, thank you for all your support.

I have belonged to many organizations, specifically those dealing with coaching youth sports. But, the best one I've worked with EVER, is Pop Warner Football and Cheer. My husband and I have served on the board of directors many times and in many different positions as well as coaching. But the very best position I've ever held was this year, after 13 years of doing pretty much everything else, I finally had the opportunity to coach the Challenger Cheer Squad for South East Pop Warner. This organization covers Queen Creek and San Tan Valley and its surrounding areas.

My squad is made up of six girls with varying degrees of disabilities. Cerebral palsy, down syndrome, brain disorders and more. Truly I do not know any of the specifics of their struggles but after working with these girls for approximately for hours each week at practice and games, my heart has tripled in size because of the amount of love I get from these girls...all of them. While my squad is made up of only girls, we welcome any boys who want to participate as well. They can cheer with us, they can be water boys for the football team or whatever else they want to do.

I don't know if it is the same in all leagues, but in our league, we feel that taking care of a child with special needs has its own challenges and because we want these kids to participate, we don't want there ever to be a financial challenge because of it. We provide them with a uniform and equipment, coaching, the opportunity to cheer at football games and to learn a routine to perform at a competition. It is all FREE. This year we had a donation of a pop up shade and chairs, t-shirts, team and individual photos and competition music.

I knew this wasn't a job I could do myself so I recruited three girls from Combs High School who were familiar with cheerleading to be the real "coaches" for these girls. A) that helps me from having to demonstrate jumps cause nobody needs to see that, B) I needed someone who could teach the cheers and C) I wanted to create an opportunity for my coaches to interact with the girls they go to school with.

These girls are your typical teenagers; concerned about their looks, always wanting their picture taken, boy crazy and looking for respect from those around them. They are not typical in the amount of love they express and how they encourage each other and lift each other up when they are struggling. The bond of friendship between the girls and the coaches went beyond what I could possibly have imagined. They talk to each other at school, they text each other, they have truly become friends.

We worked hard from the beginning of August until our state competition on October 27th. These parents brought their kids to practices and games even when I absolutely know it would have been easier to stay home. They watched as we got their girls to do things that seemed too difficult for them and pushed them to get it right. Even though we were hard on them, we knew what they were capable of. This video is the culmination of their efforts. Grab a tissue. Show message history

My girls were offered the chance to compete at Regionals in California in three weeks on November 24th. In keeping with the philosophy that we don't want to add a financial burden on these families, I am looking for sponsors to fund our trip. Any money raised will pay for hotel, food and gas for two days and one night in Long Beach, California. The money will pay for each girl and one parent along with my three coaches and myself to attend. We are willing to eat PB&J, carpool to CA and cram ourselves into the fewest hotel rooms if we have to but we still need your help. Would you consider a small donation for our team?

$25 = handwritten thank you note from the team
$50 = autographed team photo and thank you note
$100 = plaque to hang in your home or business, autographed photo and thank you note
$200 = Longhorns T-shirt or polo, a plaque, autographed photo and thank you note.

I estimate the cost of our trip will include but not be limited to:
Gas - with a dozen people, I expect three vehicles driving at $30 a tank/filled 3x = $270
Hotel - 3 rooms = $300
Food - 12 people, team dinner Saturday night nothing too fancy = $120
Food - Sunday morning team breakfast (hopefully covered by hotel) but if not = $120
Food - Lunch on both days, cheap fast food = $120

Total Goal = $930

Note: Any money left over at the end will be used to purchase a gift for each girl to be presented at the team party. If there is still excess, the funds will be held to start our team off right for next year.

I have three weeks to get it done. Can you help? Please use the PayPal button on the left of my blog. Please send me an e-mail to to let me know it is coming so I can keep track.

Thank you in advance.