ROCKWALL (December 19, 2013) An unknown author once wrote, “Cheerleaders are simply a jump above the rest.” Soon after I read that quote it made me wonder if the author had the honor of meeting a unique group of teens from the SuperKatz cheer squad.
SuperKatz comprises nearly two dozen local youths, each with a mental or physical disability. However, the disability of the team is not nearly as apparent as their “ability.”
“The cheer squad is made up of my best friends. We cheer, laugh and have fun together. Cheerleading has helped the way I feel about myself,” said Rachel May, a ninth grader atRockwallHigh School. “It helps you become strong and confident – plus, I like to see our coach happy. He gets so excited when he knows we are doing our best.”
Coach Tommy Johnson, an SMU cheerleader, has led the SuperKatz for the past five years. His inspiration to build the special needs team came from his younger brother Jeffrey, who was diagnosed with x-linked myotubular myopathy. Jeffrey liked to watch his big brother practice, and wanted to take part in the movements, gymnastics and cheers. He longed to follow in Tommy’s footsteps.
“SuperKatz took to the gym for the first time in Cheer Athletics history in 2009. Little did any of the the SuperKatz’ original helpers know that this decision would positively change the lives of all these children indefinitely, including my brother,” Tommy writes on the SuperKatz website. “It’s difficult to label these children as disabled when, in fact, they should be called ‘able athletes’. They come into the gym and ultimately teach us life lessons. They have become, in my eyes, the epitome of what true athletes should embody. Not only do they lift up each other and put a smile on everyone’s faces, they lift up those who take the ‘easy life’ for granted and make them realize how special life truly is, no matter how you have to live it. In fact, they can even physically lift each other up now!”
Christa Crocker, Rachel’s mom, said the cheer families have the utmost respect for Tommy, who gives so much of his time – encouraging competition and excellence just as he does on his own SMU squad. “While many of our competitions are exhibitions, we went toIndianalast year to the Majors and were named Major Champions. We went to the NCA, the biggest competition, and placed third,” Christa said. “Our children and cheer parents have become so close that we are all family. Since the children have bonded, they recognize that they have real friends, maybe for the first time.”
Squad member Chase Wood of Rockwall agrees. “We have fun and are all best friends,” he said.
Other SuperKatz team members include Allison Ford, Arianna McClain, Aubrie Bailey, Caroline Bailey, Collin Canada, Jessica Andring, Jordan Steele, Kayla Yeargan, Leigha Sanderson, Lexie Hartnett, Madeleine Verges, Madison Thompson, Maleri Young, Nicole Nowosiad, Dominique Lara, Rae-Ven Riggins, Rylee Field, Samantha Rozinsky and Stephanie McDowell. SuperKatz coaches are Tommy Johnson, Maddie Swicegood, Bryan Carter, Ryan Musgrove and Caitlin Martin. SuperKatz coaches are Tommy Johnson, Maddie Swicegood, Bryan Carter, Ryan Musgrove and Caitlin Martin.
The cheer families are extremely dedicated; however, they cannot do it all on their own. The SuperKatz are seeking sponsorships and donations, so the children have ample opportunities to compete on a regular basis. The SuperKatz will host a golf tournament fundraiser in March of 2014. For fundraising/donations, contact email@example.com.
Written by Blue Ribbon News special contributor Kristie Smith, a teacher for the blind and visually impaired. Kristie is the author of a series of novels about a blind girl detective, and has written more than 15 activity books for children with special needs. Find her guest column, “Kristie’s Kids” online at BlueRibbonNews.com.
Photos by Jessica McClinton.
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