Cheer squad for everyone

April 23, 2009 The No. 1 Chicago-area squad for girls with disabilities has everyone cheering. Cheer Alliance's Wildcats cheerleading squad for girls with disabilities is one of 160 special needs cheer teams in the United States and Canada. Members of the squad range from the age of 3 to 19 years old.

Located in St. Charles, Cheer Alliance is an all-star cheerleading training facility. Three years ago, they started a team for children with disabilities.

"Any child with an intellectual disability can participate in our special needs program. It is completely free, there is no cost to the athlete," said owner Kellie Varga.

Serious training starts in the fall, Varga said.

"The special need athletes come in and start training, learning the routine, and then they start competing in the fall, and they go to competition exhibition team, so they perform until January or February," said said Varga. "We kind of wrap up the season in March, kind of give them the spring off, and then start coming back again for training and classes in the summer."

Chris Propheter's 19-year-old daughter Amanda is the oldest cheerleader on the squad.

"She has high functioning autism," Propheter said.

Since becoming part of the squad, mom has noticed great improvements.

"The social skills, just being able to do the movements and have the encouragement of the cheerleaders who are in the academy who don't have disabilities, her physical abilities have got better, the coordination just has been great," said Propheter.

Perhaps the most important part is the community support.

"Our special needs team is developed because of a donation from a family," said Varga.

All the hard work paid off: the Wildcats won first place at the Cheer Sports Chicago competition last month.

"They brought home a big trophy and a big banner, so we're really proud of them," Varga said.

Cheerleader Amanda is having the time of her life.

"I like cheerleading, because it's really good sport, and it gives you a lot of really good exercise, and you get to do a lot of stunts and a lot of competing and a lot of really good stuff," Amanda said.

Cheer Alliance is growing and will open a second facility in Niles where they will also have a squad for cheerleaders with disabilities.

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