Shophia Gittisarn, 8, center, joins the Valencia Vikings cheer leaders as they do the Baby Shark Dance at the end of the first quarter of the football game between West Ranch High School and Valencia on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Special Olympics, Time to Cheer athletes perform with Valencia cheerleaders

On Friday night at Valencia football’s game against West Ranch, there were nine extra cheerleaders standing on the sideline. One of them was 13-year-old Shae Granger, a Special Olympics athlete.

“I like Valencia High School,” Granger said. “I love Valencia. Go Vikings!”

Valencia cheer brought students participating in the Special Olympics and Time to Cheer to the game to cheer and dance along with the squad for the first quarter of Friday’s game.

The Vikings hosted a cheer clinic on Oct. 19 to teach the participants cheers that they would do in the first quarter along with a special dance to “Baby Shark.” The band had even learned the song just for the occasion and the color guard brought Baby Shark helium balloons with them to hold up during the performance.

“Baby Shark” was chosen because the Special Olympics mascot is the shark, and it took little convincing for the band to learn to play the song.

“The moment we mentioned it, they were jumping up and wanting to help,” said Valencia cheer mom and organizer Mary Beth Shearin. “They wanted to know what they could do. That’s nice to know that the student population is interested in something beyond themselves.”

Habida Aly, 16, joins the Valencia Vikings cheerleaders as they do the Baby Shark Dance at the end of the first quarter of the football game between West Ranch High School and Valencia on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Valencia cheer hosted a similar clinic last year, but the participants didn’t have the opportunity to cheer and dance with the cheerleaders.

Whether or not they had the chance to perform with the cheerleaders, the experience of the clinics alone has paid dividends in terms of helping build character for the Vikings.

“It’s taught me that they are all normal people just like us,” said Valencia cheer captain Parker  Ingram. “They really enjoy to do things that we like to do and unfortunately they don’t get as many opportunities as we do, but hopefully that’ll change in the future.”

Ingram and two other cheerleaders volunteer with Time to Cheer, a Valencia program that provides opportunities and encourages special education students to try cheerleading.

They work with the students on their own time after school, teaching them cheers and dances while building friendships.

“Good friends,” Granger said. “They’re funny, they’re sweet, they’re kind.”

“It’s easy to think, oh, they’re cheerleaders, they’re too cool, they’re too whatever,” Shearin said. “This was so exciting for them. I think they got more out of it and had more fun at the clinic than anybody.”

Shearin’s daughter graduates this year, she said she plans to come back and help organize the event again. It’s gaining momentum in the community, with several businesses donating shirts and funds this year.

“They really enjoy it and so putting it together, it was a really good experience because they don’t get to do this every day,” Ingram said. “And so getting them on the field with us was a lot of fun.”

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