By Rick Rodgers
Published on February 21, 2019
It is said that cheerleading is wonderfully inclusive because there’s a space on team for every body shape, but up until recently that wasn’t entirely true.
In 2014 I met with the ICU to discuss ways to include people with physical and sensory disabilities into our wonderful sport. I had personally drawn the attention of the ICU and many of the global cheerleading community with my Wheelchair Partner Stunt performances on the world stage in 2011 and 2012, but it was in that board room in 2014 where ParaCheer was truly born.
By the next year we had formed the charity ParaCheer International CIO, had advised on rules and best practice for the divisions, and were creating a team to bring to showcase in 2016. The first competitive debut of the divisions took place at Worlds 2017, that first year there were only 5 teams across the 3 divisions, Unified Advanced, Freestyle Pom and Hip-hop but it was heart warming to see that, through these Paralympic inspired divisions, we finally had Cheer For Everyone!
The ParaCheer divisions are for disabled and non-disabled athletes working together to perform most of the elements of classical cheerleading routines. The sport is now recognised as part of the world championships and is participated in by people in over ten countries, with more building all the time. We’re hopeful it will soon become a recognised Paralympic sport alongside cheerleading’s recent recognition in the Olympics. What’s unique and exciting about this element of cheer is that it really highlights the teamwork inherent in our sport; there are many times when you’ll need more than one individual involved in making adaptations from the classic techniques, to assist a disabled participant in achieving a skill.
Over this last year we have been working really hard to ensure that information and understanding about these divisions spreads far and wide, so the opportunities for people with disabilities to participate isn’t restricted to national teams but also becomes mainstream within All-star, club, and university teams too. Chantal, my flyer, and I have personally been to over 11 countries during the last year to showcase what is possible for disabled athletes to achieve, and to run workshops for teams and national federations, helping coaches better understand the basics of stunt adaptation and how to be more confident working with people with a range of different disabilities.
It is our dream that eventually all programs and clubs will be open and inclusive of disabled participants, either by creating ParaCheer teams of their own or enabling disabled athletes to participate more freely within the current classical structures.
When coaches understand how to adapt and Event Producers open up these divisions locally and regionally the opportunities for innovation and inclusion are endless. We will continue to assist the ICU in driving the sport towards recognition by the Paralympics and to build more resources and support services for coaches and athletes to train effectively and adapt techniques.
You can get involved with the movement yourselves by checking out our website www.paracheer.org, or following us on social media Facebook: ParaCheerInternational Instagram: @ParaCheer or my personal Instagram: @wheelchairpartnerstunt. Support the charity and gain great resources to start your own teams by becoming a member and getting involved with discussions on our coaches resource group on Facebook. If starting a team for the benefit of the participants isn’t enough to encourage you, maybe the understanding that 20% of the population has some form of disability will. That’s a huge untapped market for your gym; all you need to get started is just 1 athlete on your team to have a disability.
If you want to start your own team and be coached by the pioneers of this sport then please get in touch. But do it fast, as we’re taking on the world here!