By Barb Arland-Fye
Jane Ott of Davenport exudes enthusiasm, so she’s a natural for cheerleading in Special Olympics at the Mid-Winter competition in Iowa City this weekend. And the 52-year-old seems to have as much energy as typical cheerleaders who are half her age or more.
Ott, a Catholic who attends Holy Family Church in Davenport, has been employed at Handicapped Development Center for more than 30 years and has participated in a variety of Special Olympics sports.
She took up cheerleading about three years ago “because my friend Mary Beth wanted me to do it,” she explained during a break from her job at Handicapped Development Center. Ott also works one day each week at Monkey Joe’s day care center in Davenport.
The cheerleading squad she’s a part of has 17 participants — 13 women and four men — ranging in age from 25 to 60, says Seth Campbell, a case manager for Handicapped Development Center who also serves as the center’s Special Olympics coordinator. Cheerleaders have been practicing on Saturdays since about January for the March 19 competition. They have two routines, one of which features “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles.
Ott enjoys the rehearsals and is equally enthusiastic describing her cheerleading outfit: a black skirt with a pink top and black trim, white socks, white shoes and an angel pendant on a chain.
Last year the squad took home gold in Special Olympics competition; Ott is hoping for a repeat.
Her mother, Mary Ott, was surprised about her daughter’s interest in cheerleading, but said: “Jane likes to be busy and involved.”
Cheerleading has been a Special Olympics activity in Iowa for more than 10 years, said Pam Wagner, vice president of games and competition for Special Olympics Iowa.
She introduced cheerleading as a Special Olympics sport in Iowa after observing basketball teams arriving at competitions with their own cheerleaders. “The basketball teams went home with medals, but the cheerleaders didn’t and I felt bad about it,” Wagner said. Iowa was the first state to offer cheerleading as a Special Olympics sport, but it’s caught on elsewhere.
“It’s a sport that many of the states are doing and it will become an official sport in the next year or two,” she said. There are “yell” squads and “dance” squads, and the two different types of cheerleading don’t compete against each other. Thirty cheerleading teams composed of 266 athletes will compete in the mid-winter competition; they are among 900 Special Olympic athletes competing in a variety of sports: team basketball, basketball skills, power lifting and gymnastics as well as cheerleading.
Wagner says cheerleading is one of her favorite events to watch. “There will be ladies 50 to 55 years old cheerleading. It’s a great opportunity for them. It’s something many of us have wanted to do our whole lives. But (Special Olympians) don’t have the inhibitions we have. It’s just really fun,” she said.
Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
Creating a truly inclusive community is the goal of organizers of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, which is held in March.
Suggestions for supporting people with developmental disabilities include:
• Volunteer with an organization serving people with disabilities.
• Employ a person with a disability at your place of business.
• Have someone speak about how to communicate with people with disabilities.
• Approach a person with a disability you’ve seen before but have never spoken to.
• Use “people-first” language. Say “a person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person.”
• Don’t tolerate the use of disparaging language or others who make fun of a person with a disability
(Information provided by Handicapped Development Center. Contact the center at (563) 391-4834 for a speaker or to visit the center and see how people with disabilities are contributing to our community. Or e-mail email@example.com or visit the website: http://handicappeddevelopment.org.)