Thousands of fans flocked to the University of Oklahoma’s Lloyd Noble Center on September 27 to watch 107 cheer squads compete for the right to be called state champions at the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) Cheer Championships.
While the cheers were loud for the interscholastic squads who were giving it their all, it was a group of cheerleaders known as the Shining Starz that stole the show, and the hearts of all in attendance.
The Shining Starz, who had a second place finish at the 2014 National Cheerleaders Association All-Star Nationals, comprise a group of athletes with disabilities and are part of the Oklahoma Twisters competition cheer organization.
“This year our Board of Directors made a commitment for the OSSAA to partner with Special Olympics Oklahoma,” said Amy Cassell, OSSAA assistant director. “I thought how fun it would be to bring them in to do a little short exhibition.”
Cassell, who oversees several sports at the OSSAA, including swimming and cheerleading, had Special Olympic athletes participate at the state swimming championships and felt bringing in a cheer squad would be a great addition to the cheer event.
Each of the Shining Starz members’ faces lit up when they were presented with gold medals with special engravings commemorating the event. The medals are the same as what OSSAA state champions are presented with.
The co-ed group, dressed in black and red cheer outfits, performed several spirit routines from team cheers to more daring stunts like the elevator prep. The performance took place during the two intermissions as the judges tallied scores.
As the Shining Stars performed, the interscholastic cheer squads surrounded the arena floor encircling the Special Olympic athletes and did what cheerleaders do – support and encourage.
“That gave me goose bumps,” Cassell said. “It was just electric, it was unbelievable.”
Then the cheerleaders stood in parallel lines, facing each other with their arms outstretched to form a human tunnel for the group to exit the floor amidst a roaring standing ovation from the spectators.
“I am a big believer in service learning and that is a big part of our responsibility as educators,” Cassell said. “What is important to me about this aspect is it levels the playing field in terms of athletes are athletes. You participate in your own way, at your own level and you respect one another, you respect the talents of one another.
“That is what our kids did for our Special Olympics kids.”