CheerABILITIES & Team Texas Unlock True Potential for All Star Athletes

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Spirit brings people together. It’s not always something you can see or touch, but it has become something that changes lives and helps many realize their true potential. 

CheerABILITIES –

From school spirit to the spirit of competition and teamwork, cheer and dance have unique ways of connecting people. In schools, Generation Spirit  welcomes athletes with disabilities, encouraging inclusion and growth for all. In a similar spirit, the all star cheer and dance community has dedicated time and attention to cultivating teams with athletes of special talents in the CheerABILITIES and DanceABILITIES divisions. 

If you’ve had the opportunity to watch what the all star community calls “exceptional athletes perform, it’s something you’ll never forget. The support from the crowds, the inspiring performances, the incredible showmanship, and the unrivaled hearts of the athletes make this division a fan favorite.  

In the early 2000s competitions began to include teams and athletes with disabilities; CHEERSPORT was one of the first events to put CheerABILITIES athletes on stage. The Kentucky Elite Showcats took to the performance floor, and from then on, the division gained momentum and popularity, with NCA All-Star Nationals including the division in 2007. Today, it is offered by almost all cheer and dance event producers, with larger competitions such as CHEERSPORT and NCA welcoming up to 20 teams! 

“CheerABILITIES and DanceABILITIES athletes deserve the same opportunities that other all star athletes have,” said Justin Carrier, Vice President of All Star Experience. “There are so many life lessons that come along with competing that are irrefutable. The values of teamwork, dedication, sportsmanship, working toward a goal and, of course, the lessons that come along with winning and losing – those are things we all need to experience.” 

Justin is a longtime fan and advocate of the division. Over the many years that all star has evolved, so have the opportunities for athletes with disabilities. Today, the CheerABILITIES division has a unified scoresheet and consistent rules across events, making competing at multiple events more accessible for teams. In many ways, this is thanks to the efforts of the USASF CheerABILITIES Committee and the continued support of Varsity All Star. At the helm of the organization, encouraging growth for the division, is Committee Chair Justin Carrier.  

“I’ve been co-chair of the committee with Glenda Broderick for eight or nine years, but when my own son was diagnosed with autism at age three, my dedication to the program kicked into overdrive,” explained Justin. “An impactful moment for me was when I met a father at the Exceptional Athletes Gala, who explained to me how disheartened he and his wife were when they had learned that their unborn daughter was diagnosed with down syndrome. He had no idea that his baby girl would grow up and get the opportunity to perform on stage at all star cheerleading competitions.” 

As a former all star and collegiate cheerleader, Justin knows all too well how impactful the spirit community can be, and he intends to continue growing the CheerABILITIES and DanceABILITIES divisions with the athletes’ best interests in mind. 

“In an effort to protect our kids, we can inadvertently hold them back from reaching their full potential. We think that, since we know them best, we know what they are capable of and what their limits are. But sometimes it takes the expectations of someone outside of the family – a coach, teammate or an entire team – to pull the most out of them. Once they experience a CheerABILITIES or DanceABILITIES team, these kids are always better for it. And they often surprise their parents, who might not have realized their true potential otherwise.” 

Team Texas –

For the first time in Special Olympics USA Games history, Competitive Cheerleading was featured in 2022. Justin Carrier helped coach “Team Texas” who was in attendance to the games. We talked to Justin more about his experience…

How did you get involved with Team Texas?

  • NCA High School Nationals hosts the “Texas Special Olympics State Championship” so I already had a relationship with the organization through this championship.

How do you describe the experience attending the event?

  • This year’s USA Games was a BIG DEAL for the cheer world as it was the first time competitive cheer was included in this event.  The USA Games (like the Olympics) only happens every 4 years. Texas sent two teams: Traditional (every athlete on the team had at least one intellectual disability) and Unified (typical athletes paired with the special athletes to compete together).  We earned the bronze in one division and 7th place in the other.
  • It was held at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World.  It was a little surreal getting to be a coach of a team at the same venue where I was an Event Producer for The Summit Championships a month prior.
  • I was proud to run into so many other current and former Varsity employees who had a role in producing the event.  Shout out to all of you for being a part of such a magical competition.

How do you describe the opportunity of coaching Team Texas?

  • The experience was every bit as fulfilling as you’d guess it would be. I cried tears of joy more often than I care to admit.   I’ve always been a huge supporter of the special needs/cheerabilities community and the experience reinforced certain values and created a few new ones.  Here are my personal (and professional) take aways.
  • The outlook these athletes have on life is inspiring. They see the bright side in everything and it’s something everyone can learn from.
  • These athletes, as does every athlete, deserves the chance to win and lose. I saw one athlete get really upset during Awards when her team got announced in last place. These are feelings of disappointment that are hard for every athlete to deal, with but important for us to all learn the value behind. When we only provide ‘exhibition’ options, we take away the competition aspect, we remove the wonderful opportunity we are extending the rest of the teams at our competition.
  • There’s an entire world of unified partners/assistants/junior coaches who play sports with special athletes. I never appreciated the concept before but now I get it. The maturity and empathy of these teenage girls blew me away. They are the BEST of the next generation. We should be putting a bigger spotlight on them.
  • I’ve always appreciated how many athletes I get to positively impact in my role running events for Varsity. But it filled my cup to get back to the grass roots level and work directly with kids and experience the highs and lows of their journey through this once in a lifetime experience.

You can see Varsity Spirit’s statement on Diversity & Inclusion here.

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