Cheering from the ‘chair
Megan Smith waved her pompoms in the air, pumping her fists to the beat as the Clear Creek Cougars boys basketball team scrambled up and down the St. Patrick’s Church basketball court.
That her team trailed the Mount St. Mary’s Eagles by double digits mattered little to Megan, 13, cheering in the final game of a woeful season for her team.
She couldn’t jump in the air or do cartwheels like every other member of the cheerleading squad. But Megan, diagnosed as an infant with the cerebral palsy that put her in a wheelchair, cheered on, screaming, laughing and stabbing the air with her blue-and-white pompoms.
“She enjoys just being part of a group, being a part of the school,” said her mother, Vanessa. “The good thing about it is, everybody has some limitation they have to overcome … hers are just more obvious.”
Student cheerleading coaches Jennifer an Kimberly Bacigalupo agree Megan wasn’t sure if she could handle the duties of a pompom girl.
“It was difficult at first,” Jennifer Bacigalupo said. “She wanted to have a part like everyone else.”
As one of three eighth-grade captains, Megan is part of the tower the squad forms at games and picks the cheers for each routine.
“She’s really full of spirit,” Kimberly said.
“The group is doing so well, they hardly need us anymore,” Jennifer said.
As the Cougars clawed away at a 15-point deficit, Megan led the troop, yelling “Thunder, thunder, thunderation, we’re the Cougars generation!” and the familiar “Go, fight, win!” chant, clapping her hands slowly on top of her motorized chair’s armrests. Clear Creek’s deficit has increased to 20-6 after three periods.
Unlike Mount St. Mary’s, Clear Creek is so small that every member of the eighth-grade squad plays, regardless of ability.
Smith said her favorite cheer is “We Will Rock You,” and says her favorite subject is literature.
Sister Erin Smith, an 11-year-old sixth-grader on the squad, said cheerleading helped her sister open up to others. “She didn’t want to be on the squad at first, but now she opens up a little more because she’s with us.”
Vanessa Smith said she’s not sure if Megan will continue cheering at Nevada Union next year. Erin Smith, however, said her sister likely won’t forget her years cheering on an overmatched basketball squad ending its season with a 37-11 loss.
“Now people see her more as a cheerleader and a real person than just someone in a wheelchair.”
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