On This Team There’s a Place for Everyone

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When one action, big or small, causes a reaction — then another, then another, and so on — it’s called a ripple effect. This simple idea of making change and influencing action was inspiration for the name of the organization that brings together students with and without disabilities on equal footing. That organization is The Sparkle Effect. 

Since 2008 The Sparkle Effect has made it their mission to create an environment of courage, compassion and connection for all students, no matter their ability. This year they’ll celebrate 10 years of outfitting and training inclusive, school-based spirit programs in partnership with Varsity Spirit. Varsity Spirit’s mission of elevating the student experience has been amplified through The Sparkle Effect, and now over 10,000 students who’ve participated have benefitted from the program and its influence on students and the greater community. 

Imagine a team where all students are outfitted equally in uniform and train alongside each other – a place where differences are embraced and inclusion is a part of everyday life. These life-changing ideas are what attracted Ohio State graduate and current Varsity Spirit camp instructor Meghan Stiltner to The Sparkle Effect. Stiltner studied moderate to intensive special education at Kent State University before transferring to Ohio State, where she graduated with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences, with a concentration in Special Education.  

“It’s important for spirit teams to be inclusive of athletes with and without disabilities because all students want to be valued for their strengths, make new friends, and be involved with their peers. Cheerleading is incredibly adaptive. There are levels for all ages. So why not make it adaptive for all abilities?” Meghan said. 

Aside from how adaptive cheerleading is, the long-lasting effects of inclusivity are remarkable. 65% of Sparkle Effect team advisers report an increase in participants’ academic performance, 90% report an increase in motor skills, and 85% report that students have joined additional school activities.

With a background cheering at Kent State and working with young athletes at summer camps, Meghan has a deep understanding of how being part of a team can positively impact your life. When she heard The Sparkle Effect was looking for coaches to administer team training, she knew it was something she wanted to be a part of. 

“The first time I truly felt the impact of my involvement with The Sparkle Effect was during my first day of training. We were training a brand new team, who was incredibly excited and nervous. They were shy and reserved during our first meeting, and the captains were visibly nervous about leading the team in their first-ever practice. As our training went on, they started to feel more comfortable. And once practice began, they truly flourished. Each team member was engaged and excited. It was clear that all members, with and without disabilities, were benefiting. I felt like that team could truly change the culture at their school, and I was honored to play a role in that,” Meghan told us.  

 It’s people like Meghan, who believe in the power of inclusivity and teamwork, that help our communities become better. It’s been 10 years now that The Sparkle Effect has been a part of schools, rippling change through the student body and the community, and there’s only opportunity for growth going forward. 

To learn more about The Sparkle Effect and how you can get your school involved, visit thesparkleeffect.org. 

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

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