By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Cheerleaders Sarah Coughlin, Izzie Robbins and Madelyn Bennett made history at the Sept. 12 sophomore football game between Assumption High School, Davenport, and North Scott High School, Eldridge. These “Assumption Angels” comprise Assumption High’s first inclusive cheerleading squad.
Wearing Assumption cheerleading uniforms and carrying black and red pom-poms, the Angels smiled brightly as they walked onto the field of Brady Street Stadium with the sophomore cheerleading squad.
The Angels’ families cheered for the girls and felt blessed to witness this event. While none of the Angels attends Assumption, each has one or more siblings at the school.
“It’s a great thing for them to be included, to be part of the same community that their typical siblings are a part of,” said Claire Coughlin, mother of Sarah, who is a student at Bettendorf Middle School. Sarah has two siblings at Assumption: Ryan, a senior, and Gracie, a freshman who is Sarah’s twin. Coughlin says she’s been advocating for a special needs cheerleading squad at Assumption for several years. “It makes sense that our Assumption community — as service and family oriented as we are — would want to include all of our children, even if Assumption can’t provide special education.”
Rachel Clay, a senior and varsity cheerleader at Assumption, is friends with the Coughlin family. She and another friend, Spencer Krawiec (who graduated from Assumption last spring) worked with Coughlin to create an inclusive cheerleading squad. “Sarah goes to the games anyways for her brother. She always got involved in our clinics,” Rachel said. “So we thought, ‘why don’t we make a team for kids with disabilities?’”
The teens received assistance from the “Sparkle Effect,” a student-run program (begun at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf) that encourages inclusion of students with disabilities in school-based cheerleading and dance programs. Rachel and Spencer sought and received permission from Assumption’s Principal Bridget Murphy and Athletic Director Wade King. The girls also received a Sparkle Effect grant toward purchase of uniforms for the Assumption Angels and have immeasurable support from cheerleading coach Lisa Simpson.
“Lisa is allowing the Angels to cheer whenever they are able with the other cheerleaders. They are also invited to attend any and all practices and team dinners with the regular cheer squad. I think this is huge, and it is completely because of Lisa Simpson,” Coughlin said.
At a practice before the game, all three Assumption Angels, wearing their uniforms, swooshed their pom-poms and followed the movements of the typical cheerleaders in the high school’s gym.
“We teach the Angels the actual cheers that the varsity and sophomore cheerleaders do and just have the girls try their best to do the motions,” Simpson said. “The Angels love their pom-poms, so we cheer with those all of the time. Sarah loves the cheer ‘Let’s get fired up!’ That’s what it’s all about, getting the crowd fired up and having fun! … The Angels bring so much to the Assumption cheerleading squad. They are so full of joy, that they bring happiness to everyone around them,” Simpson added.Members of the sophomore squad beamed at the Angels in their midst during half-time at the Assumption-North Scott sophomore football game. “Sarah, do you want to call the cheer?” a cheerleader on the sophomore squad asked. Sarah grinned and called out “Fire Up!” to begin the cheer.
Madelyn’s mom, Pam Bennett, wasn’t sure her daughter would be up to cheering on the squad, but Coughlin convinced her otherwise. “She reassured me over and over again that Madelyn is perfect the way God made her,” Bennett said. “This is all about the girls doing the best they can do to their ability.” Although Madelyn had been invited to participate with the Shining Stars Dance Team at Pleasant Valley High School where she is a freshman, her older brother Sam is a senior who plays baseball for Assumption.
“I would be going to Assumption games personally, so it’s easier for me to bring Madelyn to those games,” Bennett explained. She’s also hopeful Madelyn will enjoy her cheerleading gig. “She likes being around other people; she likes to make people laugh.”
Twelve-year-old Izzie, a fifth-grader at Garfield Elementary in Davenport, lights up the gym during cheerleading practice and the playing field with a look of pure joy on her face.
“Izzie just looks forward to it,” says her mom, Bridget Robbins. “If we say ‘A-H-S’ in our house, she just starts shaking and clapping … it gets her so engaged being around those girls. It’s just a blessing.”
While Izzie has participated in community events at which Assumption students have served as “buddies,” “having her really be part of the school — entering the school, going to the gym for practice — has been a neat experience,” adds Robbins, whose oldest child, Liam, is a freshman at Assumption.
Izzie’s love of rhythm, a catchy beat and music along “with all of these nice girls smiling around her has sent her over the moon,” her mother said.