Let Your Sparkle Shine!

Abby Rios is captain of the cheerleading squad at Clemens High School in Texas. As a sophomore she started an inclusive cheerleading team called the Buffalo Sparklers to include students with intellectual disabilities in her school. Below is an excerpt from a college application essay in which she showcases the importance of inclusion in schools. She was recently featured on the local news for her amazing contributions to Clemens High School. Abby is an inspiring youth leader!

During my sophomore year, a very special bridge was built. As football season came to an end, so did the pressure and chaos. Every day seemed a little bit slower, and everyone seemed to be in a constant exhale. No one could ignore the change in the atmosphere, whether it be the warmer clothes, the skittering leaves across the pavement, or the sound of basketballs echoing from the gym’s open doors.

My friend Sabrina and I were walking from the parking lot during our cheerleading period, and decided to stop. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were happy with anything. In we walk, with our faces smiling and cold, into the Adaptive P.E. Class. We smile even more, if that was possible, and wave at our classmates. With that friendly wave and some short greetings, we are swept into a game of basketball that I will remember for the rest of my life.

A lot happened that day. No mercy was shown on either side, and we were utterly demolished in the epic battle. Yet another encounter, and perhaps the most important one, would consist of more basketball with the boys, and a cheer taught to the girls. “I want to try out for cheerleading,” Shawnie said, “I would be a good cheerleader.”

And she would. She would evoke a response, she would make people smile, and isn’t that our goal? To make people proud to be a Buffalo? What was preventing Shawnie and the other girls from being cheerleaders?

Lightbulb… Let’s help them. If they want to be cheerleaders, let’s make it happen.

Of course, it was more paperwork and approval than anything, but when you’re working with a group as worth it as they are, the process seems less demanding. It also helped when I caught wind of an organization called the Sparkle Effect, which was a program started by two high schoolers in Indiana, and was exactly what I wanted to be a part of. They had ideas and support systems that would make the program more appealing to administrators and parents. Eventually, by my junior year, we were able to start The Buffalo Sparklers.

That year was fabulous, and even though we hadn’t gotten approval or uniforms until after the football and basketball seasons were ending, we got to make our first appearance at the Special Olympics Basketball Tournament at Roosevelt high school. The girls looked beautiful in confidence. They looked even better in the spotlight of all of the parents’, players’, and volunteers’ smiles. They became different people, and I was right when I thought that they would make great cheerleaders. We cheered for every team, and I was proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of them.

This year, I can’t wait to see the crowds’ faces when they get to see what our school is really all about. I think they will appreciate the diversity that we represent, and will be as proud as I am to be a Buffalo.

When observing from the sidelines, I had always felt bad for them, but anyone who has ever interacted with kids or adults with special needs will not only develop a love for them, but also a respect, and a fascination.  I was wrong, and ignorant, to feel any other way. Just because they are different, doesn’t mean that they’re any more different than a boy is to a girl, or a cheerleader is to an honors student. There are more similarities than differences, but only the differences are perceived by most people.

In a way, they are the best people. They are a new kind of teacher. These kids taught me how to be patient, and honest. They lead by example, and they follow the right people, for the right reasons.