Special-needs cheerleaders take the field in Forsyth County

11:59 PM, Oct 23, 2013   |    comments
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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. -- Oh, the longing of the young to learn and make friends and have fun; hope is bursting from their hearts that their dreams will come true.

And Wednesday night, that was the energy that exploded across Sharon Springs Park in south Forsyth County.

The girls on the squads of the Sharon Springs Cheerleading Association led a pep rally in advance of this Saturday's final, regular-season football games of the boys' Sharon Springs Football Association.

The cheerleading squads took their turns at the pep rally.

And, off to the side, the girls of one squad were practicing for their moment probably the hardest, and clearly no one was having more fun.

These were the cheerleaders who call their squad -- the Phenomenal Falcons.

"We started a special needs squad for the girls with some disabilities and challenges that may not have had the opportunity to be cheerleaders," said Maureen Headrick, who organized the squad this past summer.

"Honestly, at the beginning of the season, we weren't really sure how many cheers they were even going to know."

But the girls quickly mastered every routine.

"They learned a whole bunch of cheers for the season, and they cheer for teams every, single Saturday," Headrick said.

Allison Peake kneeled next to her daughter, Megan, who is seven.

"Is it fun?" Allison asked.

"Yes!" Megan said instantly.

Allison said Megan has new self-esteem since joining the squad.

"It's exciting, she's overcome a lot of battles over her life, and it's really exciting for her to be out there and to be -- just having fun, be a kid.... Meeting new friends and being able to, somewhat, be typical, be able to do what other kids do, to some extent.."

"I like it, I get to hang around with friends," said 13-year-old McKenna Brooks.

McKenna now hopes to cheer someday in high school.

"She wants to go forward," said her mother, Maureen Brooks. "She wants to keep cheering, and any opportunity she has, she'll take it. Because of programs like this, I see a lot more doors are opening."

"We have five girls with special needs, and two typical children who actually participate with the squad, as well," Headrick said, adding that she hopes to expand the program for next football season.

Beth Geiger's nine-year-old twins, Kate and Courtney, joined the squad. Kate has special needs, while Courtney joined because "I like hanging out with Lauren, Megan and all the rest of the squad, because they're so nice." At that, she gave Kate a big hug.

"Kate's a very social little girl," Beth said, "very bubbly and very determined. But one thing that it has helped her is becoming more confident with her peers. And she's actually looking at it as an opportunity to help some of other girls on the squad. And she doesn't have the opportunity at school, she's usually the one being helped. So it's been great for her. She'll go over and, if somebody's having trouble, she'll pat 'em on the back or cheer 'em up. She's had a really good time with that."

And as the Phenomenal Falcons took the field for their turn at the pep rally, it was the crowd that was cheering for them.

The girls' parents, watching from the sidelines, were beaming, tearful, proud.

"It really has brought home the message to me that it's not about winning or losing, it's about the effort that you give," said organizer Maureen Headrick. "The strength they show, the courage they show, to get out here and cheer in front of these crowds like this, it's so incredible.... They have the abilities. We just need to give them the opportunities."

Oh, the longing of the young who are bursting with hope.

Longing and, for the girls of The Phenomenal Falcons, from now on -- belonging.

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