Beyond the Books: cheering is caring as City High seeks inclusion

Iowa City High students on City Sparkles gear up for their last cheer performance of the 2016-17 school year.

Echoes of applause erupt in the cafeteria of Iowa City West High School after a two-minute cheer performance, despite the six participants repping rival red, the words "City Sparkles" across their chests.

The chants and stunts resemble what spectators may see from cheer squads on the sidelines during football games, or on the hardwood at halftime of basketball, but this routine is anything but routine.

The groups of girls is a mixture of general education students and students with disabilities at Iowa City High School.

The sum results in City Sparkles, the only 'Sparkle team' in Johnson County.

"We're a fully inclusive team," said sophomore cheerleader Madeline Kimm. "It's just a collective effort to do something we're all passionate about and we all share a common interest in."

Kimm joined cheerleading midway through her freshman year at City High.

When cheerleading head coach Lucy Joseph announced the school would start its own Sparkle squad, Kimm jumped at the opportunity.

"Getting the opportunity to help people is really important," said Kimm, who also participates in Best Buddies, a program that fosters one-on-one relationships at City High between students with disabilities and those without.

Kimm has a brother with autism, which she said gives her greater understanding of how to interact with people from different backgrounds.

"We're a team and they're our friends," said Kimm.

The friendship was on full display as the girls warmed up in the halls of West High, with smiles during stretches, laughter during dance games.

Coach Joseph said 10 girls participated in Sparkle Cheerleading this year, with the team's final performance occurring April 8. She said she expects the team to grow in numbers next year.

Amelia Gordon, a senior on the squad, said she hopes the team not only grows at City High, but that other schools consider offering the program.

"I think it'd be cool for more schools to have it," said Gordon. "Our rivalry is supposed to be West High, but who cares about that when they can have something just as amazing?"

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