Inclusivity for all: PV Generation Spirit’s effect continues to grow


Bryan Corcoran

The Pleasant Valley Sparkles celebrated their nine senior members at the varsity basketball game on Feb. 18.

By Caroline Corcoran, Pleasant Valley High School - IA

Confident, inclusive and committed are the most important characteristics the Pleasant Valley Sparkles team strives to exhibit. As the program continues to grow, the impact of inclusion has become greater.

Senior night for the PV Sparkles Cheerleading team took place on Feb. 17 at the varsity boys basketball game. Four senior mentors—Maddie Staats, Hannah Faust, Caroline Corcoran and Abbie Stelk—and five senior mentees—Halea Damm, Christian Malli, Abigail Ziolkowski, Nathan Andersen and Ethan Ramsdell— were celebrated at this game for their hard work and commitment to cheerleading.

The Sparkle Effect Organization, recently renamed Generation Spirit, is a program that has continued to grow and inspire families and communities throughout the nation. Founded in 2008, Generation Spirit fosters inclusion for community members with and without disabilities. And this, the nation’s first disability-inclusive high-school cheer team, was actually created by a former PV cheerleader. In 2008, Sarah Cronk had a unique vision to create the Pleasant Valley Sparkles, and over the next year, she worked to inspire other high schoolers across the nation to establish their own teams.

Although the organization was recently renamed, the cheer team is still commonly referred to as Sparkles by the PV community.

Abigail Ziolkowski, a senior at North Scott, has been cheering with PV Sparkles since 2016. “The year I joined we got to be in People magazine,” said Ziolkowski, “It was one of my favorite experiences.” Cronk’s efforts have been recognized on national levels and have greatly impacted all the highschoolers that have taken part in her program.

Co-captain and senior Maddie Staats has been a part of the Sparkles team throughout her entire high school career. She has grown up with many of her fellow cheerleaders since elementary school and has seen first hand the impact Generation Spirit has had on their growth. “Senior night allowed me to see just how far my teammates and I have come. We’ve all grown side by side into confident Sparkles cheerleaders, and I can’t wait to see what all our seniors accomplish in the future,” she said. Staats has formed many bonds through her four years and is thankful to be able to leave high school with amazing and genuine friendships.

The Sparkles team creates inclusion within the entire school community. The inclusion and acceptance that this program has generated within the school has greatly impacted the team members. As the varsity basketball seniors were recognized, the Sparkles cheerleaders were alongside them, receiving cheers and support from the audience.

Senior Nathan Andersen loves cheering in front of big crowds and being able to take part in a sport that motivates audiences to cheer louder for their team. “Walking in front of the stands and hearing the crowd cheer for me was really special,” Anderson said. As Sparkles cheerleaders have cheered and supported numerous events within the community, it was very special for the entire team to experience that same energy being reciprocated back at them.

Throughout the school year, Sparkles cheerleaders support many community events, from making cards for volleyball players to cheering during varsity football games. Halea Damm started cheering before she entered high school and has enjoyed the live sporting events she has cheered for. “It’s really fun when we cheer during basketball halftime and the crowd cheers with us,” Damm said.

Sparkles has impacted the community, especially when spirits are low, inspiring fans to become more engaged in the game and build up energy to encourage the sports team to keep fighting.

As a student-led organization, captains are solely responsible for organizing practices and setting the expectations for the team. An organization that used to allow service learning credits, Sparkles has further solidified itself as a club sport within PV, consisting of athletes who are all motivated and excited to create new inclusive norms among people of all levels of ability.

The Sparkles team hosts practices centered around building both confident cheerleaders and strong friendships. Senior Christian Malli has been a Sparkles cheerleader for all of his high school career. “Performing at football games is always fun and I have made great friends,” Malli said. The friendships Malli has made through cheerleading have translated outside of the practice setting and are a part of his life outside of Sparkles as well.

At PV, the members of Sparkles are committed all school year long to creating opportunities for all members and being support systems for one another. This accountability that teammates have within each other allows for members to build friendships and grow more confident in themselves. Ethan Ramsdell, a Sparkles member since 2017, has also created strong bonds with his teammates. “I have fun sneaking up on some of his friends and scaring them during practice breaks, and cheering together,” Ramsdell said. As this program allows students to become more confident in themselves and their personalities, they also develop genuine friendships.

The Sparkles team has given performances for a wide range of events, including football games, participating in the homecoming parade, cheering at local races, performing at festival of trees and cheering for both boys and girls basketball games. The PV athletics department and PV community allow for Sparkles cheerleaders to have  opportunities similar to other athletes.

Sparkles has pushed the school and community to be more inclusive by breaking the limitations that people with disabilities have and building new norms around friendships between people of all abilities.

This story was originally published on Spartan Shield on February 21, 2023.