The football team crashes through the City High banner, flanked by Sparkle cheerleaders excitedly waving pom-poms towards the stands. Although often overlooked by the crowd due to the bustle of a home football game, the Sparkle team continues to bring enthusiasm and energy.
Laura Schwab is the City High sponsor for the Sparkle Effect, a nationwide organization dedicated to fostering friendships and inclusion among students who have disabilities and those who don’t through cheerleading.
“I want members of this school to see that kids with disabilities can be a part of a conversation,” Schwab said.
The first official Sparkle team was created in Bettendorf in 2008. Since then, over 220 teams have been formed, becoming a nationwide program promoting courage, compassion, and connection.
“I want [the members of Sparkle] to build their confidence and to know that they are a part of this school socially, because social inclusion is just as important as academic inclusion,” Schwab explained. “I can put them in algebra, in science, in English, but we still have to foster friendship. I want them to feel important and included in all areas of their life.”
Confidence is key in the Sparkle community. According to the official website, the program works to help students with disabilities feel more welcomed and involved in their community. One message from the Sparkle Effect is as follows: Students gain acceptance and confidence, become passionate leaders, and help schools and communities to embrace connection over perfection.
Schwab wants to remind the school to embrace this connection just as much as those on the team do. She notices how much recognition goes to athletes, and the special awareness reserved for sports teams. Schwab described how people who may never otherwise speak to each other can find common ground congratulating one another on a recent win or triumph, and she would like to spread this to the Sparkle community.
“I want these kids to be able to go out into the hallways and have students come up to them and say, ‘Hey, I saw you perform! That was really cool!’ They should get the recognition a volleyball player gets,” Schwab said.
Julia McReynolds ‘21 and Mia Garcia ‘21 are this year’s team captains. They are happy to be spending time with the group while performing their roles teaching cheers and choosing the games they cheer at.
“I joined because it looked like a lot of fun. We’re an inclusive team, and it’s so much fun seeing everybody have such a great time together,” said McReynolds.
Garcia went on to explain that everyone enjoys getting together at practices.
“Some of [the cheerleaders] just started getting out of their comfort zones,” said Garcia. “They love stunting and doing cheers, and it’s just awesome to see them have a lot of fun.”
At each game or performance, anyone can tell that the Sparkle cheerleaders have a great time, especially when the crowd has just as much energy as them. “It’s great when we do an event where people get super excited for Sparkle,” Schwab said.
Sparkle enjoys supporting sports that may not draw the biggest crowds, and they love how their cheers raise the teams’ spirits. Jennifer Morning ‘22 is excited to be in her first year of Sparkle.
“I can make more friends and it’s great to hang out with everyone,” Morning said.
Morning said that the weekly practices are from 4:15 to 5:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays. The team prepares for games and other events, as well as learning choreography for dances.
“Practice is on Mondays and Wednesdays. We’re working on a new dance,” Morning said.
Schwab’s main goal is to create a fun atmosphere and activity for any and all students at City. All students are welcome, whether they are professional cheerleaders or have never been on a team in their lives.
“We include everyone. We don’t really have a mentor role. Our mission is truly just to be inclusive and promote friendship,” Schwab said.
This story was originally published on The Little Hawk on November 13, 2019.