MEDICINE HAT, AB — A local cheer squad is giving anyone with a disability a chance to feel included and take part in something special.
“We have some social butterflies on this team and they love the spotlight,” said coach Jaime Janot.
Dakota McCombe, 16, is one of athletes on the Stingerz special needs cheer team.
“She is a hard worker. She definitely has got a spark, she does not give up,” Janot added.
“She’s a very, very happy girl,” said Dakota’s mom, Kirsten McCombe. “She’s very out going. not a lot gets her down.”
Dakota said what she likes most about cheerleading is all the stunts she gets to do, but said somersaults are her favourite.
The team is made up of five athletes, each with their own challenges.
Two other cheerleaders also help out with some of the stunts.
This is the first season for the team, who have spent every Friday night practising.
“We are a very accepting group so if we have some athletes who maybe don’t have the physical ability to do all of the tumbling or all of the stunting to be on one of the other teams, then they have a place on our team,” Janot said.
Dakota was born three months premature and has trouble seeing and hearing.
“I was a little worried that, because she has vision problems and hearing problems that it would be hard for her to understand what she needs to do and listen to everybody and participate with everybody else,” said Kirsten. “But she proved me wrong and she’s done wonderful in this.”
Kirsten said cheerleading has taught her daughter a lot over the past few months.
“I didn’t think that they would actually get this amount of confidence from a couple of performances and just coming to practise but her confidence has soared,” she said.
The sport has also taught Dakota and her teammates how to work together.
“I think they’ve learned to work as a team. I think they’ve learned the importance of believing in themselves,” Janot said. “I think I've seen all of their self esteem improve.”
Dakota is seeing the power of teamwork and know they make every practise worthwhile.
“I’m glad that I have a good group of friends in my cheerleading,” she said.
“I think they’re happy. I think they feel like they belong and they’re proud of themselves and they should be,” Janot added.
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