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Teen Behind Inclusive Cheerleading Awarded $100K On VH1

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A teenager who started the nation’s first school-based cheerleading squad including students both with and without disabilities is getting $100,000 to expand the concept.

Sarah Cronk, 18, got the idea to include students with disabilities on a cheerleading squad at her Bettendorf, Iowa high school in 2008 after observing the boost her brother with autism received when he was befriended by the school’s swim team captain.

Since then, 33 schools located as far away as South Africa have replicated Cronk’s original squad comprised of students with various disabilities and typically developing teens who act as peer coaches. All of the students perform together at high school football and basketball games.

Now, Cronk’s organization — The Sparkle Effect — will get $100,000 after winning a Do Something Award during a star-studded awards show on VH1 last week that featured celebrities including Justin Bieber, Will Ferrell, Demi Lovato and David Beckham.

Organizers say the honor is “the largest and most prestigious prize in the world for young people and social change.”

Cronk indicates the funds will go toward training, uniforms and other supports so that the program can expand to more schools. But ultimately, she says the initiative is about far more than sports.

“Students at all the schools have reported that cheerleaders who are on the squads who have disabilities are being included outside of the squad,” Cronk said in a video that aired during the VH1 show. “People are more willing to talk to them at school. It puts the spotlight on their abilities rather than their disabilities.”

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. disabilitiesrightsadvocate says:

    I have heard of this young advocate for disabilities rights previously, and this is not her first award received, since she began this long overdue inclusion mission in her own school. What is interesting is that her inclusion model could easily be adopted among all schools, without the need for additional expenses. While I commend her work on an individual level, her efforts further illustrate the disparities that exist in most schools across the nation and proves that people with disabilities can and should be fully integrated in all aspects.

  2. thespecialneedsparent says:

    As a parent of a special needs child my personal experience is that there is in general an attitude of inclusion by youth today of individuals with disabilities. My daughter played in a youth soccer league in our community as well as was a member of a basketball handling performance team for many years. Her participation was also welcomed by adults involved. Kudos to communities such as the one we live in and I am in awe of the leadership abilities of this girl in developing this cheerleading program. She demonstrates great wisdom and vision for her age.

  3. ljp says:

    My youngest daughter started the same thing in our local Special Olympics group a number of years back when she was still in high school and her older sister who has intellectual disabilities participated in the first squads. They cheered for the boys and girls Special Olympics basketball teams. They were also invited to cheer for the High School All Star team for the State High schools. The girls that have cheered on that squad all love it and have such a great time. They even get out there and dance and do cheers at half time. I recommend it to any Special Olympics (or other of that type) groups. They got uniforms and have generally high school or college cheerleaders lead the groups.

  4. Cheryl Jorgensen says:

    In the early 1990’s New Hampshire there were several cheerleading squads that included students with disabilities. It didn’t have a fancy name and was just the natural thing to do.

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