Written by: Debbie Carson, VeroNews.com, August 3, 2018
The Little Storms will be taking the field during games and halftime at R.D. McCorkle Field. This new cheerleading crew will be of a special sort – consisting of those with differing physical and intellectual limitations.
The idea to form the cheerleading team came to Carissa Grone, a Port St. Lucie Athletic Association board member and cheerleading coordinator, during a cheerleading competition. During that competition, a special needs cheer squad from Palm Beach County performed.
“There’s nothing like that here,” Grone said, recalling her thoughts during the exhibition. Grone reached out to Special Olympics to find out how the Port St. Lucie Athletic Association could establish its own team. “We had to find just the right person,” Grone said, someone who “figuratively fell out of the sky.”
That right person is Kila Perez, who is already a cheer coach and mother of a special needs child. “I’m really really excited about this,” she said. “I feel kind of privileged.”
She explained she had been at a conference for special needs families in Orlando and heard a story from a woman with special needs who had been shunned and left out of activities.
“When I went home, she stuck in my head,” Perez said, adding that she knows coaching a special needs cheer squad is exactly what she wants to do.
Though she’s coached cheerleading squads before, this is her first time handling a group of cheerleaders with special needs. “Anything’s a challenge,” Perez said. And she’s up for it.
The new squad will be co-ed, based on the interest of both girls and boys who want to cheer. To start, the squad will be limited to 10 cheerleaders.
“We want to make sure it’s a well-run program,” Grone said of the initial cap on participation. A wait-list will be formed in the event more than 10 kids wish to join.
The crew, named the Little Storms, will don purple and white cheer uniforms. The goal, in part, is to “make them feel like normal kids,” Perez said.
Special Olympics is covering the costs for registration and other costs associated with the squad. “Special Olympics is amazing,” Grone said.
As more volunteers step forward to support the Little Storms and additional coaches are identified, PSLAA plans to split the crew into age groups.
For Perez, she only wishes she had known about special needs cheerleading sooner. “I would’ve jumped on this a long time ago!” she said.
As with all Special Olympics sports training, registration is free to participants. If interested, register online. Registration is limited to 10 athletes at this time, but a waiting list will be created.
PSLAA is a recreational youth football and cheerleading program dedicated to training athletes from ages 4-16, with a history of 34 years in the community.