The Lion Hearts, the special needs population of LRHS, have been given the opportunity to be more involved in the Leesville community with the addition of a Special Needs Cheer team. Ashley Van Slyck, a junior at Leesville and third year Varsity cheerleader, teamed together with Elisabeth White, the Special Programs’ teacher, to make an inclusion on the varsity cheer team.
Inspired by other schools with a Special Ed cheer team, Van Slyck knew that Leesville would benefit from having an active way for special needs students to get involved in Leesville Athletics.
On October 1, eight LRHS Varsity cheerleaders met with ten special needs students for their first practice. Thrilled for the chance to be a part of something bigger, the Special Ed students did not hold back to show their excitement and energy.
“Having the special needs [students] at practice really affected the atmosphere of cheer and everyone’s’ moods towards it. Their excitement was contagious and rubbed off on everyone else. All [of] the sudden it wasn’t some ‘normal kids’ trying to be good people and help out ‘special kids,’ but just a bunch of kids cheering together. They made us forget that they were any different,” said Karli Quesenberry, sophomore and Varsity Cheerleader.
All of the cheerleaders involved the Leesville Lion Hearts came away from the experience with a lot to think about. Working towards the same goal with someone who lives with a mental disability allowed the cheerleaders to have a better understanding and appreciation to both the Special Ed students and the sport of cheerleading.
Suddenly the cheerleaders are feeling very thankful and trying to not take the sport that they love for granted. In the next years, Van Slyck hopes the addition of the Lion Hearts Cheer team will be permanent.