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Donna Stringer, 53, often can be found in the middle of a squad of cheerleaders. Since 2004, she has coached a Special Olympics cheerleading team.
She became involved with the program when she worked in a special needs classroom in Hardin County Schools. The first group she worked with included five girls. The person who oversaw the program had to leave and Stringer helped take over the squad.
Stringer finds her work with cheerleaders exciting. She looks forward to her work with the squad every year and wishes the season was year-round.
Growing up, Stringer was never a cheerleader. She was on a dance squad — go-go boots and all — but not a cheerleader.
Her squad now has 11 girls, but the program has included as many as 15. If there were more volunteers to coach, she could have more girls and multiple squads.
She can tell the girls look forward to cheerleading season, too.
It’s a bonding experience with other girls and a realization that they can go out there and do it, Stringer said. The girls love being a part of something in the community.
They come out of it saying, “I can do it,” she said.
Participation can begin at age 8 and continue into adulthood. Because many of the girls also participate in bowling, their season begins when that season is over.
The squad practices twice a week and participates in competitions. Regionals are Feb. 25 and state competition is March 12.
The uniform is very exciting to the girls. They recently received new, shiny uniforms. The squad saw another team with shiny uniforms at a competition and wanted new ones. Brand new gold uniforms and sparkly pompoms were donated.
“Now these look like cheerleading uniforms,” the girls exclaimed when the new ones arrived, Stringer said.
Her daughters offer assistance and in previous seasons the Central Hardin High School cheerleading squad helped when their practice schedule didn’t interfere.
A former cheerleader helped Stringer with this year’s routine. In competition the squad does a dance routine and a cheer. The cheerleader video taped the routine so Stringer could see it on YouTube to teach the girls.
“We get out there and have a good time,” Stringer said.
Stringer can see a difference in the cheerleaders after they stick with the program for a while.
Although they compete and like when they win, it’s not about winning. It’s about getting out there and helping girls believe in themselves, showing them they can do anything, Stringer said.
Stringer also helps children with autism through the Michelle P. Waiver, a state program allowing those with special needs to learn life skills at home.
She helps them develop social skills. Communication is difficult for those with autism, Stringer said. She has to learn new approaches to communicate and help them express themselves.
Stringer also helps autistic children with everyday living skills, such as baking and basic hygiene.
Sometimes people don’t take the time to understand what a child with special needs is going through, Stringer said. Understanding goes a long way.
The work she does through Special Olympics is as a volunteer. She believes anyone can volunteer, especially with those who have special needs.
To help with the Special Olympics cheerleading squad, call Stringer at (270) 862-3007 or (270) 317-3190.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.