Cheerleaders and Football Players Shine

Erna Albertz | January 2013
Football players help students with special needs

Attending high school in the mid ‘90s, I noticed that students with obvious physical and mental disabilities—while integrated into our classrooms—were politely but firmly shut out of school social life. For any of them to have been voted “Most Lovable” or “Most Popular,” much less homecoming king or queen, would have been almost unthinkable, although they often truly deserved such titles. Two heartening stories suggest that change may be afoot in today’s high schools. It seems many students have learned to look past appearances and into the heart of individuals with disabilities. In so doing, they have struck gold. In Queen Creek, Arizona, a girl with a brain disorder was “adopted” by her school’s varsity football team after facing bullying and taunts from other peers. Without being asked, these young men organized a support team that shielded her from further abuse and buoyed her with their attention and caring. Meanwhile, in Port St. Lucie, Florida, a cheerleader secretly gathered her classmates’ support to first nominate then elect her friend—a young man with cerebral palsy who’s lived in foster care for most of his life—to Homecoming King. During the voting process the young man stood up and took his first steps in public, across his school’s football field. I commend these students, whose beautiful and unselfish actions have made this world a better place, and whose lives are surely richer for it.

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