Royalty Athletix of Columbus calls one of its competitive cheerleading squads the special-needs Angels.
Brittany Carpenter, the Royalty Athletix co-owner and mentor who launched the group three years ago, understands that perhaps the most special need of the members of this nine-member squad is simple: The desire and the need to be like any other cheerleader, despite challenges such as Down syndrome, autism and other disabilities.
“The whole point of all this is to give them a chance to do almost all the same stuff that other cheerleaders do,” said head coach Summer Fateley, a Columbus East High School football cheerleader.
So under the watchful eyes of people such as Carpenter and Fateley, the youngsters — ages 7 to 13 — kick, jump, shout, tumble, turn careful cartwheels and even climb upon modified pyramids with a strong support system, including people who form the base of the pyramid and several spotters all around them just for extra safety.
They exhibit a considerable amount of joy just for the chance to participate. But they also compete to energetic, hip-hop music mix at five to seven cheerleading events per season. Those events often unfold in front of several thousand fans and followers in places such as Broadbent Arena in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Angels will perform Feb. 24 along with about 100 other teams.
“Not only does a lot of this activity help them physically, but the team feeling helps them socially, and in school,” said Carpenter, who has been involved in cheerleading since third grade. “It has given them a strong sense of being part of something. And it has brought them a sense of empowerment.”
For more on this story, see Wednesday’s Republic.