Girls find new hope as cheerleaders

HAMPSTEAD, NC (WWAY) — Good sportsmanship and team work go beyond the football roster at Topsail High School. Along the sidelines, fans can cheer on the inclusive cheer squad.

It’s made up of girls with developmental challenges who want nothing more than to be like those around them.

When the Friday night lights kick on for home games, so do the smiles and the spirit.

“Cheerleading is about community support and supporting the team and that’s exactly what our girls do,” cheer coach Jennifer Weeks said.

Meredith, 7, can’t speak, but she expresses herself through sign language and lately by shaking her pompoms.

“We just think it’s wonderful that they get the opportunity to have a typical experience like any other kid at these schools,” Meredith’s mom Carle Turner said. “It’s something they deserve, and we’re thrilled Jennifer was able to bring it to them.”

Weeks knows this is about more than cheer routines, it’s about the girls.

Her dream to include the girls in regular sporting events came to life with a grand from the Sparkle Effect.

“Which is a national organization,” she said. “They gave us our first grant to get uniforms, and we are going to continue asking the community for help as far as building a bigger squad and getting more uniforms and signs and things.”

But the most important elements are not tangible. One cheerleader talked about how inspirational her fellow cheerleader is.

“She has the mindset that she can do anything anyone else can do and she had the opportunity to do what other girls are doing,” Bridget Williams said.

Whether friends or siblings, this small team is making a big difference.

Darissa Ballard helps get her little sister through the routines.

“We’ve gotten really close together, and I really think she likes it,” Darissa said.

Bonnie Swann is a student at Topsail High and part of the cheerleading team. She said she’s focused on one simple goal.

“Just to be a cheerleader and be out there with the other cheerleaders,” she said.

And that’s exactly what the other girls are focused on too, and they won’t let anyone keep their voices down, because cheering keeps their spirits high.

The inclusive cheer squad cheers at all of Topsail High home games. Their next game will be Friday, October 4.

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