Cheer team reaches out to youngsters

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle

The #1s gather together at the Step 1 All-Stars annual Christmas party on Dec. 20. The team is lead by Joe Dollins, the adapted physical education teacher with SWCS, Coach Nick Eichler and Jackson Middle School teacher Kim Hoy.

For some, getting up and performing in front of hundreds of people causes the Nerves Syndrome. Symptoms include quaking legs, shaking hands, queasy stomach and profuse sweating.

Others revel in it. They push the nerves back, smile and never let the audience see them sweat.

"These kids absolutely love it," said Nick Eichler, co-founder and coach of the Step 1 All-Stars. "They don’t get scared at all."

He is speaking about his #1s, a group of 19 cheerleaders with special needs.

"There are children who are cognitive delayed, some are autistic, some have Downs Syndrome, Williams Syndrome and other physical limitations," said Kim Hoy.

Hoy is in her eighth year as a special education teacher with the South-Western City School district. She currently teaches at Jackson Middle School where many of her students are on the #1 squad.

"She is wonderful with the kids, both at school and when she comes to practice," said Tina Dolch, mother of student-cheerleader Kevin who is autistic. "She devoted all of her time to them and is such a great teacher."

In addition to teaching, Hoy is also something of a recruiter for the #1s.

When enrolling her daughter with the Step 1 All-Stars, she met up with Eichler who had expressed interest in starting a special needs cheerleading team for his facility on Business Park Drive.

"The idea snowballed from there and it has been absolutely wonderful," said Hoy.

Together, they made flyers promoting the program and she sent them home with her students to show their parents in case their child wanted to join up.

"We had a parent meeting about it and at the first meeting, three parents showed up, but since then it has started getting bigger," she said.

The parents do not just sit on the sidelines and both watch and manage to read a book simultaneously, but get involved with the one thing that counts the most: support.

"I am really thrilled with the parent support. We have the best parents in South-Western City Schools," said Joe Dollins, who teaches adapted physical education to disable students in the district. "They do an extraordinary job of encouraging their child to his or her best while also praising everyone on the team for their great effort night in and night out."

Not only does the #1s get encouragement from their parents and teachers, they also get it from their coaches and their peers.

"Our school is very aware of the team," Hoy said. "They played our routine on the school broadcast and we did our routine at the pride assembly. Jackson Middle School is very supportive of the special needs team." 

Since their first practice on Oct. 5, the change of the cheerleaders has been noticed by the coaches and the parents. 

"He would always keep to himself and be scared of people, but this has really made him blossom," said Christine Sims of her son Josh, who is cognitive delayed. "Since interacting with other kids, he had gotten a lot better." 

The #1 cheerleaders look forward to their one hour practice every Friday, and some relish bringing the house down after their two and a half minute routine is completed.

"Everyone goes nuts," said 14-year-old Curtis Greczyn, who was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome. "Even the ladies go nuts on me."

The crowds will have to wait until Feb. 24 for their next public performance, but until then, all those associated with the Step 1 #1s will get their own enjoyment out of seeing them. 

"This is the coolest experience all the way around," said Coach Stephanie Beck. "We all see joy on the faces of the special needs athletes and each person watching or helping out is getting the same fulfillment."

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