Special Olympians, spirit teams forming unified squads this school year
With arms stretched skyward, waving black and gold pompons enthusiastically above her head, the elementary-aged girl with Down Syndrome mimicked the spirit team on the sidelines of an Indian Nations League youth football game.
“She would always be out there with her poms,” Warren said, explaining how she noticed the girl at games at Nienhuis Park. “It was so cute watching how badly she wanted to be out there cheering with her sister.”
Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year that young lady, and other Broken Arrow students with special needs, will have the opportunity to perform at games and participate in spirit competitions alongside the Tigettes.
“I am excited to have the opportunity for kids to do something extra,” said BA Special Olympic coach Christina Gould, who teamed with Warren in creating the unified spirit group. “We are in on the ground level of this for Oklahoma. I love being able to bring all of the kids out of their shells. This is just another opportunity to showcase some of the talent these kids have.
“There are several states who have huge cheerleading competitions for their Special Olympians. Oklahoma Special Olympics is watching us to see where it goes, so hopefully it gets big.”
The unified program allows for special education students and student-peers already in the Broken Arrow athletic spirit programs – dance and cheer – to compete together.
“I like the fact that it’s all the spirit groups coming together and embracing a new group of athletes on campus,” said Melenda Knight, assistant athletic director. “By working with these special athletes, it’s going to unify the spirit groups we currently have on campus.
“This experience will be as valuable for our kids who already are in our programs as much as it will be for the Special Olympic athletes. What they get out of it by practicing with the special needs students, and being part of another group other than themselves, is immeasurable.”
Varsity cheer coaches Kyrstin Delehanty and Amber Slemp are eager to get their squads involved as is former varsity cheer coach Mary Fowler.
“I sent an email out to the high school asking for people who would want to help coach, and Mary was all about it,” Warren said. “We had several teacher and staff who said they wanted to help out, too.”
Both Knight and Gould credit Warren with creating this opportunity.
Says Gould: “Meag approached us. She wanted to do something for our athletes. This was a passion of hers and she brought it to us. So, of course, we’re on board.”
Says Knight: “Meag’s done a fantastic job in working with Christina. To see our coaches work with Special Olympic coaches, and try to grow that program, is very rewarding. It’s selfless.”
Warren credits parents of girls with special needs, including the mother of the girl with Down Syndrome, for building awareness of these girls’ desire to be part of a spirit team. With Gould on board, and the support of the athletic department administration, Warren believed this was the right time.
“I talked to a mom randomly in January, and I said ‘this is the year. I’m going to make it happen. I promise you. I’ll figure it out.’” Warren said.
This year we are refocusing our community service efforts on making sure it directly impacts the BA community and also to really have impact the high school,” the Tigette coach continued. “Our girls are really excited.”
Gould anticipates 10 to 12 special needs students will participate in the program this year. She and Warren both expressed the desire to see the program grow, stating their goal is to ultimately have a sixth hour adaptive physical education class, which would help with the creation of unified flag football and soccer teams.
On the spirit side, Warren said fans will see unified spirit teams on the sidelines of some football and basketball games in 2019-2020. They also will compete in spirit events hosted by the Tigettes. Warren received confirmation from the sponsoring organizations that unified categories will be included in each of the three competitions.
“The ultimate goal is to make sure they have the same opportunity to cheer and dance, to experience that, and to show their school spirit.” Warren said.
Let the pompons wave.