Norwin PAL's adaptive cheerleading program looking to be a hit
By Nicole Chynoweth
Published: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Brooke Hildenbrand, 13, of West Newton has Down syndrome and is active in numerous local adaptive sports programs.
She does gymnastics at Ultimate Gymnastics in Delmont and cheers competitively for the Steel City All Stars in Plum.
But at the Police Athletic League's adaptive cheerleading, she will have the opportunity to cheer for a team for the first time.
PAL in Norwin is hosting an adaptive cheerleading program, PAL's Mighty Knights, at the PAL Baseball Complex on Wednesday and Thursday evenings throughout August and in the fall for children 18 and younger with special needs. The team will cheer on Norwin's midget football team at some home games.
“I like the cheers a lot,” Brooke said. “I like the pom-poms. I like my friends that cheer.”
PAL, a youth-focused nonprofit organization operating in conjunction with the local police force, offers various sports activities for children in the community, including adaptive softball. Jen McCutcheon, 35, of North Irwin is a member of PAL's executive board and a volunteer coach for PAL's cheerleading squad. She wanted to create an adaptive program that would enable girls with special needs to have the same cheering opportunities as other girls.
“I've never believed in excluding anybody because you don't look perfect or you're not like me,” she said. “I don't think that's fair.”
McCutcheon approached the executive board for approval several months ago. All agreed to start the program.
“Our adaptive softball program is very successful, so when Jen presented this to us, it was a no-brainer,” said board president Bob Rizzo, 45, of North Huntingdon. “Everybody should have a chance to do everything.”
With the help of several other PAL volunteers and parents of special needs children, McCutcheon organized the program this summer.
The Mighty Knights' first practices were held last Wednesday and Thursday. The Mighty Knights practice at the same time as PAL's cheer squad, the Termites, giving the groups the chance to communicate.
“We integrate them at intervals when we feel that they can handle it,” McCutcheon said. “Then we pull them (the Mighty Knights) out and work with them by ourselves.”
Brooke and five other girls spent two hours learning and practicing moves and routines on Thursday, including the “Jam” cheer. The girls bob their heads and play air guitar, chanting “J! A! M! You've got to jam! Oh Baby!”
“Brooke has more spirit than any cheerleader I've met in all my years,” McCutcheon said, as Hildenbrand let out a cheerful “Woo hoo” from the practice field.
Paula Hildenbrand proudly watched her daughter clap and bounce around Thursday, smiling as the cheerleader showed off her “high V” and “low V” cheer moves.
“She's just loving this,” Hildenbrand said. “She loves to have fun. She just loves to be out. I knew she would love it. I knew it.”
As a parent, Paula is grateful for programs like Mighty Knights, which help expose typically developing children to those with special needs at a young age.
“I think kids are much more accepting today,” she said. “There wasn't stuff like this even 10 years ago. We're falling into good timing. There are programs and lots of things for kids (with special needs) to do.”
Angel Zucco, 24, of Level Green brought her sister, Jessica Roycroft, 8, to the program Thursday. Jessica, who has Down syndrome, previously participated in PAL's adaptive baseball, but her real passion is cheerleading, Zucco said.
“At home, she grabbed her pom-poms and started doing the ‘high V' and was showing my fiance all the stuff she learned yesterday,” Zucco said.
Zucco said she is thankful for the integration of the cheerleading squads as it will help the girls develop their communication and cognitive skills.
“I think it's really nice for the other kids to get some exposure at such a young age to other kids with disabilities,” she said. “It's important for children to have awareness of that at a young age. … I think it's really important for (children with special needs) to be able to be involved in activities that typical children are able to do. They're just as capable of doing it. I think it's great that somebody actually gives them an opportunity to do it.”
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Greensburg woman accused of assaulting nurse in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital
- Latrobe hospital source of fuel spill
- Greensburg bishop’s time at helm draws to a close
- Unity woman loses appeal of DUI conviction
- Fuel spill discovered on Loyalhanna Creek
- Jeannette to use grant to secure Monsour
- Westmoreland man’s walk in Niagara Falls State Park wasn’t allowed, police say
- Murrysville police will get raises in 5-year pact
- Judge to Cook Township drug suspect: Get new friends
- Wilkinsburg man jailed in heroin overdose case
- Tentative plea deal with Westmoreland drivers reached in turnpike toll fraud