GRAZ, March 20, 2017 – Have you ever thought that you will see a unified cheerleader group with people with and without intellectual disabilities? Me neither. To be honest, it is amazing and very emotional.
On watching the Hungarian floor hockey team against Costa Rica on Sunday I became aware of something wonderful: a unified cheerleader group with and without intellectual disabilities was cheering the teams.
This was a group called SO CHEER, which is a volunteer organization of cheerleaders with and without intellectual disabilities. It is a self-funded group created for unified and special needs cheer team in the United States and around the globe.
Cheer commissioner Darian Packard said: "We started the preparation for these Special Olympics nine months ago. Cheerleading is not recognized as a sport but, hopefully, one day it can be.
"The idea to create a cheerleader team was born at the Special Olympics summer games in Athens in 2011 and, four years later in Los Angeles, were 17 cheer squads consisting of 225 young women and men cheerleaders from eight states.
"We wanted to represent a typical American tradition in our country and the cheerleading at the Special Olympics has begun.”
One team of nine cheerleaders with and without intellectual disabilities travelled from the United States to Austria. All of them - coaches, families and this programme's organizers - cover their own costs and fundraising. There is no financial support from Special Olympics or other organizations.
In Austria, a local cheer team – the Graz Giants Cheerleaders – joined SO CHEER.
They cheer on athletes competiting in floor hockey, floorball, stick shooting and speed skating. Both team will also perform together in the closing ceremonies at Merkur Stadium in Graz on March 25.
Cheerleading has always been about a presence on the sidelines to inspire athletes and energise fans. But it is about much more now in Austria. The two groups together bring a magnetic spirit which touches hearts.
Follow also their activities on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/socheer4all/?fref=ts
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