Cheering on Disabled Girls

Sarah Herr, 17

Sarah Cronk, 16

Bettendorf, Iowa

On an afternoon in late August, shouts of “Fight blue, fight gray!” fill the Pleasant Valley High School cafeteria. There, 10 developmentally disabled girls in T-shirts and shorts, ages 8 to 15, keep eyes fixed on cheerleaders Sarah Herr and Sarah Cronk, who clap out a beat. “Great job, guys!” Herr says.

The Spartan Sparkles ( came into being a year ago, after Herr and Cronk led a Special Olympics cheering clinic and, Herr says, “wanted to do something more permanent.” Now, twice a week, under the guidance of coach Pam Cinadr, they and fellow varsity squad members teach high kicks, cartwheels and pyramid formations—which the Sparkles perform at home football and basketball games to a roaring crowd. “They pump us up,” says offensive lineman Kurtis Pfitzenmaier, 18.

The Sparkles’ success on the sidelines—and the friendships they’ve formed with the varsity girls—have produced some big changes. “She wasn’t very outgoing before,” says Greg Dwyer, whose daughter Katie, 12, has an autism-spectrum disorder. “Now, she’s full of confidence.” Says Katie: “I love being part of a team. Cheerleaders are cool, so we’re cool.”


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