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Seven cheerleaders from Samuel Clemens High School in Schertz, Texas took to the stage at Athlete Village Saturday to lead the crowd in a cheer. But this squad was unique because it was an inclusive cheerleading team that included students with and without intellectual disabilities. 

The Buffalo Sparklers began three years ago when a high school student approached English teacher Stephani Martinez and asked to build an inclusive cheer program. Today she is the advisor to the Buffalo Sparklers, a squad of four cheerleaders with disabilities. Each Friday morning, the students get together with varsity cheerleaders to practice cheers and routines in preparation for performances at football games, basketball games, and Special Olympics events. 

Barbara Adam, the mother of first-time cheerleader Jessica Adam, said her daughter has gained confidence by being part of the Buffalo Sparklers. “She’s a lot more outgoing, and she’s just having so much fun with the squad, she said. “She’s really coming out of her shell.” 

During practices, the varsity cheerleaders share their expertise with the squad. “They love learning new things and it’s really exciting to teach them,” said varsity cheerleader Avery Lewis. “I see them all as friends.” 

To advisor Stephani Martinez, the best part of the program is the relationships that are forged between the girls. “It’s why I teach,” she said. “To see kids love each other.” 

The Buffalo Sparklers was founded with the help of Sparkle Effect, a national program that helps teens begin inclusive cheerleading and dance programs. Project Unify – Meet in the Middle is a Special Olympics program that brings together students with and without disabilities to promote acceptance in schools. For more information, visit www.mimtexas.org.

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