Special Olympians have a new area of competition.
Thanks to a pilot program implemented in Lincoln County last year, the North Carolina Special Olympics will offer cheerleading for the first time.
â€œItâ€™s a wonderful outlet for athletic ladies,â€ said cheerleading coach Ethel Gaston. â€œThis is another avenue for them to display their talents.â€
Gaston was recruited to coach the pilot cheerleading program last year. She watched as some athletes gained experience. Not only did they become better cheerleaders, they developed new aspects to their characters.
â€œI saw sides of their personalities Iâ€™ve never seen before,â€ she said. â€œThey are outgoing, confident and excited.â€
The team of six girls cheered at every basketball game they could. Lincoln County Special Olympics has two basketball teams â€” keeping the cheerleading squad bouncing back and forth between the two.
Gaston hopes this yearâ€™s certified program will bring in more participation. If enough athletes are interested, two squads can be formed.
Gaston coached the team last year with Jovena Banks.
Lincoln County Special Olympics Coordinator Lisa Frazier said the coaches did a great job last year. She looks forward to participants actually getting to compete in addition to cheering on other teams.
â€œThis year they will have their own competition at ECU in March. Theyâ€™ll get to put together a routine and show their stuff.â€
The pilot program last year brought cheerleaders to the state competition, but only to root on other athletes. None of their expenses were covered by the Special Olympics program. This year, as competitors, cost of travel and uniforms will be absorbed. This doesnâ€™t cancel the need for fundraising, said Frazier. Sponsors are needed to help purchase uniforms.
â€œAnd we do take hand-me-downs,â€ Frazier said.
Volunteers are also welcome. Last year, cheerleaders from area high schools worked with the team, teaching them cheers and routines. The experienced cheerleaders were welcome trainers since Special Olympics works to mimic high school sports, Frazier said.
And the effect the new cheerleaders had on the athletes was obvious.
â€œWe found that with our cheerleading it added some excitement to our basketball program,â€ she said.
Cheerleaders in the program can be male or female, age 8 and older.
The level of competition and number of squads will depend on interest.
Frazier and the cheerleading coaches will have a meeting Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Lincoln County Family YMCA. Anyone interested in participating may attend. For more information call 704-483-5233.by Diane Turbyfill