PEARLAND, TEXAS -- As the Berry Miller Junior High School eighth grade football team took the field Wednesday night, its cheerleading squad was right there with them, along with one teammate who has been a game-changer.
"I wasn't sure how it was going to go. I just knew that I liked Claire," said Natalie Pizzo, her cheerleading coach.
Pizzo is also 14-year-old Claire Moreno's Life Skills Teacher at the Pearland ISD school.
Claire has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair with wheels that look like lollipops to get around.
Pizzo wanted to get Claire more involved and cheerleading was the answer.
"She loves it," said her mother Kristen Moreno. "It has given her a connection to her school, to her peers, to a schedule."
Ever since, Claire has been to every pep rally, practice and game. She knows all the cheers and works around her physical limitations.
Pizzo says with Claire on the team, everyone is more accepting of differences and more kind.
"We don't really notice it anymore. She's part of the team and she's our friend," said eighth grader Amanda Hopfe.
The Wednesday evening game was hard for the squad and Coach Pizzo. It was Claire's last game for the season.
"She's having this really major surgery," said Pizzo through tears. "Sorry."
Claire is undergoing surgery next week on her lower extremities. Everyone expects her back when she's ready and able, for another cheer and another chance to shine.
"I want people to see that Claire is just like any other 14-year-old girl, who wants to belong and wants to be included and wants experiences that are unforgettable through her school years," said her mother. "She's getting that."
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14-year-old Texas cheerleader with cerebral palsy inspires teammates