Monday, February 13, 2012

Delaware cheerleaders embrace special teammate

from by Brian Taff:

When the boys' basketball team at Newark High School takes the court, there is an equally impressive show on the sideline. That is where Rachel Rhea and her teammates are churning out cheers. And this is definitely a team with spirit. Because as good as they are in cheerleading, they may be even better at leading by example.

Rachel has Down syndrome, a fact that in many places might have meant she wouldn't have gotten a chance to be on the high school cheerleading squad. But THIS high school team saw that this girl has skills. "We watched her do one of her cheers," said cheerleader Kristin Hilliard. "We saw how fast she does cheers and how she picks them up and then we brought her to the coach." And the coach brought her on the team, and, as it turned out, into something like a family. "The whole school has embraced her as part of our team," coach Jacqui Fournier told Action News. "She's just one of the girls with the rest of 'em."

For Rachel's family, that's the best part. For a little girl who is used to standing out, blending in is a joy too big to fully understand. "For her to cheer on the team, it means a lot to us," said Rachel's mother, Pam. "It's a nice experience, part of the high school experience." And it appears that joy may be contagious, because when Rachel is on the sidelines, very often there's just one team in the stands.

"The crowd does notice Rachel," said Fournier. "And I don't know who the people are in the crowd. But you do hear, when Rachel's on the floor, you hear from above or the other side of the gym, 'Go, Rachel!'" Which means, these cheerleaders may stand on the sidelines, but they've already won the game.

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