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Adaptive cheerleading team helps girls with disabilities build confidence

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- It's a group working to build confidence in young girls one cheer at a time. The adaptive sports program at Mary Free Bed added a cheerleading team for the first time this past fall and now they are looking for new members.

All of the girls on the team have some sort of physical or cognitive disability, but they don't let that stop them from doing what they love.

"I love sharing my joy and passion for cheer with someone who normally might not be able to," said coach McKensey Heys.

Heys cheered in high school and now she's coaching the adaptive cheerleading team at Mary Free Bed.

"I think it's always been a dream of ours ever since wheelchair basketball started to have that additional presence of another group," said Alicia Hass, Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports Coordinator. "Having the cheerleaders out there would just bring that spirit and pull in the audience with the game, just like any type of able-bodied game."

One of those girls is 11-year old Faith Aversano.

"Sometimes people judge you for the way you act and the girls that are on the team don't, so I just feel safe there," said Aversano.

In addition to working on memory and motor skills, Hass says the biggest thing the girls get in return is confidence.

"The confidence piece is huge especially for girls at this mold-able age," said Hass. "I think being out there in front of a bunch of people is a nerve-wracking experience, but they're able to push through and they work together as a team. I think team building is huge."

Last year, the girls performed at a Grand Rapids Christian High School football game and at Mary Free Bed wheelchair basketball games.

"We want to integrate them into the community and spread awareness to the community that this is an opportunity we provide," said Hass. "We also want them to feel a part of this warm, wonderful group of girls that have more experience so they can kind of provide this mentor opportunity."

Aversano also plays on the basketball team and says both organizations have given her lifelong friends.

"My favorite thing is that they understand what it feels like to be a little different than others," said Aversano.

Mary Free Bed offers 15 different sports teams and 10 clinics. They are trying to find more cheerleaders to add to their team, boys included. If you or anyone you know might be interested, call 616-840-8356 or email sports@maryfreebed.com.

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