Maddie Kilgore, 7, helped her cheerleading team take first place at the recent National Cheerleader Association’s Daytona Beach International Classic. But the Coral Springs resident and her 18 teammates weren’t the only participants on the performance floor for the 2-minute, 30-second routine.
They were there with their “buddies” (volunteer assistants) while representing the Spirit of Cheer Florida, a team comprised of special needs athletes. As a result of all the hard work since September, the 2012 championship title will not be forgotten.
“Cheerleading is a program that’s developing her confidence because she gets to perform in front of so many people,” said Amy Kilgore, of her daughter Maddie, whose diagnosis of a rare chromosomal disorder does not impede her cheerleading passion. “This team is accepted by every audience because it’s at a general competition and these kids also have the ability to compete.”
The Spirit members of ages 5-22 commingled the required elements of stunts, jumps, dance and cheer into their choreography. As the team participated at traditional competitions throughout the tri-county area this winter and spring, each performance earned a standing ovation.
“These kids are always so excited to get onto the floor and when they come running up to me with huge smiles after their performance it feels amazing,” said the Spirit group’s head coach, Melissa Jablonski, who is assisted by Tina Gaeta.
Jablonski formed the Spirit of Cheer Florida All-Stars four years ago. As a special education teacher, her way of life is constantly geared toward nurturing such children. Her love for those with special needs has now trickled down to her daughter, Ashley, 13, who also helps with the Spirit squad.
“I’ve grown up around children with disabilities since my mom has always worked with them. I love seeing them grow and be proud of their accomplishments,” said Ashley, of Coral Springs Charter School, who spends time cheering for All-Star and middle school teams. “I’m helping make their dreams come true and I get to share the experience with them.”
The Spirit of Cheer Florida is currently working on its new routine and getting ready for another season of competitive and embracing performances on Saturday mornings.