With the school year winding down, many students are trying to figure out what to do this summer. But one junior high student already can't wait for the next school year.
Lily Smith is 14 and will be in ninth grade next year at Eisenhower Junior High, and she's going to be on the cheerleading team for the first time. It's also the first time this school will have a cheerleader who has Down syndrome. It seems so simple — cheerleaders cheer to get crowds to cheer. But any cheerleader can tell you it's so much more than that. There's makeup, pictures, pom-poms, and hugs — lots and lots of hugs. Something Lily is good at.
"Lily is always happy, and she always comes every morning and gives us all huge hugs," said Camry Pule, Eisenhower Junior High School cheerleading captain. Lily has always been that way, but after finding out recently she made her school's cheerleading team for next year, those hugs seemed to never stop. She says she is excited to be a cheerleader. "I like being on stage and I love dancing around," Lily said. Even though Lily has Down syndrome, it has never stopped her from trying anything she wanted. "She wanted to do it, and I didn't see why not let her try," said Suzie Smith, Lily's mother. "We told her, 'You know, you might not make it,' and she kept saying, 'I might not, but I might.' " Sixteen girls tried out for the team, and Lily was one of 10 who made it.
"We were judged on talent and not appearance," Pule said. Lily scored well enough to make the team, and during her school's goodbye assembly Thursday showed her classmates she could stay in unison with the other girls with her smile never stopping. "We extend opportunities for every student in this school, so they can really find their heart's desire," said Principal Mary Rhodes. And Lily found something else she loves besides hugging. "Lily doesn't suffer from Down syndrome," Suzie Smith said. "She just happens to have Down syndrome." And if Lily likes cheerleading enough, she might try out for the varsity team in high school a few years from now.