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Good Cheer

posted Saturday March 16th, 2013

The statewide Special Olympics cheerleading competition is coming up later this week, and the members of Team Tempe are as ready as they’ll ever be.

They’ve cheered at basketball games, competed in the regional competition and practiced just about every Saturday since December.

A funny thing occurred to me at practice this morning: I’m going to miss cheer. Me, the one who was so horrified at the mere suggestion.

Sophie and I both started out pretty lukewarm.

I spent the first several practices with my teeth gritted, wondering what my kid was really getting out of it — certainly not much exercise, since these cheers are mostly a lot of arm waving. She memorizes much more complicated routines in the ballet classes she takes with typical kids.

I couldn’t see how she’d make friends out of the deal, either. With the exception of one girl her age she’s already friendly with, the team is pretty much all adults. Which would be fine (Sophie loves adults!) except it’s a fairly quiet, withdrawn bunch. Several weeks in, Sophie still hadn’t really cracked the nut with any of them.

But we’d made a commitment and Sophie liked the uniform and the pom poms, so we kept going. And in the end, we both got into it.

Really into it, I’m embarrassed to admit. Two weeks ago at the regional competition, I — well, the best way to describe it is that I kind of lost my mind. There was a big auditorium with a judges’ table and a whole bunch of teams lined up on the sidelines. When Team Tempe took the stage, I found myself moving forward and practically taking the stage myself — standing behind the coach, smiling and mouthing the cheers, pantomiming the moves, almost panting with excitement and nerves.

Afterward, I had to shake myself like a dog and wonder, “Why did that seem so familiar?” Then I realized, in horror, that I am no better than reality TV’s Dance Moms; on par with Toddlers and Tiaras.

I had to put on a big smile when Tempe took second place to Mesa — out of two teams in their heat. It didn’t matter to Sophie, she was thrilled with her silver medal and the joy of competing, not to mention the cupcakes handed out afterward.

I was careful to keep frosting off her uniform, but her mouth was covered and I panicked for a moment, looking around for a bathroom or a drinking fountain. Then I saw Robert. He’s the only male on the team, a quiet older guy with a sweet smile. I’d never seen him and Sophie interact, but here he was — and he was holding out a wet paper towel.

That’s when I realized what this whole cheer thing is about: teamwork. True, the routines aren’t anything super fancy, but they require concentration and symmetry. They require the group to work as a team. (And it doesn’t hurt that their coach is terrific — kind and understanding but also down to earth and funny.)

I watched this morning with new eyes, and saw Ursula, the grande dame of the team who came to the competition decked out in sparkly eyeshadow and brand-new white Keds, greet Sophie with excitement. At the end, when I said to Sophie, “Hey, Babycakes, let’s go,” another team member, Colleen, giggled and said something I didn’t quite catch.

“You’d call her Small Fly?” I asked, confused.

“No,” Colleen said, rolling her eyes. “Small Fry.”

We both laughed.

Even though cheer’s not even over yet this year, on the way home Sophie and I discussed it and decided she’ll definitely sign up again next year.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome by Amysilverman

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