Focused on more than just winning competitions, Newtown High School’s cheerleading squad is making it possible for students of all abilities to join.
The unified sports program has put together a “Spirit Squad,” and when members perform, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
Dani Mola has been cheering since second grade, right alongside many of the girls on the Newtown varsity squad.
"I’ve been doing it since I was young, so I’m not nervous at all,” she said.
But when she got to high school four years ago, there wasn’t a team she could join.
The varsity coach decided to change that.
"She flourishes in cheer, she's beautiful at it, and we clearly saw she wasn't going to maximize her potential on our varsity team,” said Newtown High School Varsity Cheer Coach Susan Bridges.
That sparked the beginning of the Newtown High School Spirit Squad, which is a unified sports program open to students of all abilities, and all genders.
"I have to say it's always been a dream to be a cheerleader, and I’m so glad I was given the opportunity to be on the spirit team because so many of my friends are on it,” said Garrett Fitzpatrick, a junior unified cheerleader.
He is one of the four unified athletes on the team, working with 12 varsity members who volunteer their time every Monday to share their skills.
"It’s a lot of time commitment, but we always find a way to put them in because we know they love it so much,” said Jess Mullany, a varsity senior.
The team performs at basketball games and competitions, and when they do, the reactions are incredible.
Their coach said it’s that appreciation and the camaraderie among teammates that makes the program truly shine.
"They’re friends. They don't see any differences in each other, and it’s so incredible to be a part of,” Bridges added.
The grand finale for the NHS spirit team comes this weekend.
They're going to be performing in the state championships unified division.
Copyright 2016 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.