Although a wheelchair bound girl may not seem like a likely candidate in a sport that features handsprings, jumps and pyramids, wheelchair cheerleading is becoming more common. Just because a child is in a wheelchair does not mean she doesn't have tons of school spirit. In fact, just watching a disabled cheerleader rise above her disability and persevere can be an inspiration to the rest of the cheerleading squad.
How Wheelchair Cheerleading Works
Special Squads Made up of Wheelchair Cheerleaders
Traditionally, those who wanted to cheer but were bound to a wheelchair would be part of a special squad made up of wheelchair cheerleaders. Most of the sideline cheers would consist of arm movements and vocals. Half-time cheers might consist of dances where the wheelchairs carefully spin around one another and into various formations, typically to fast-paced music. Many times, these cheerleaders would cheer on a wheelchair basketball team.However, these squads are not available in all areas and if you are not fortunate enough to live near a squad of wheelchair cheerleaders, then you may need to look into other options.
Squads Pairing Wheelchair Cheerleaders and Non-Disabled Cheerleaders
Because the wheelchair cheerleader will have less mobility than a non-disabled cheerleader, there are a few adjustments that must be made to accommodate one or more wheelchair bound cheerleaders on a squad.
- Assign a Cheer Buddy: A cheerleader should be assigned to the wheelchair cheerleader. This cheerleader will be responsible for pushing the wheelchair out onto the gym floor or football field for quarter and halftime cheers. During dances, the chair may need to be spun around. These moves can be choreographed during practice, so that the routine looks smooth and effortless. If the wheelchair cheerleader has a motorized chair, this may not be necessary.
- Placement: Cheering in a wheelchair requires the ability to move freely within a defined space. Because the wheelchair will need a bit of room to maneuver, it is important to place the wheelchair cheerleader to one side or a bit to the front of the other cheerleaders to avoid any injury.
- Choreography: Choreography is vital to dances and during cheers with stunts. For example, the last thing any coach wants is for a motorized wheelchair to spin right into the path of a cheerleader doing a back tuck or round-off, back handspring. Planning and practice will avoid any catastrophes and keep everyone safe.
- Adaptations: Some routines may need to be adapted for the disabled cheerleader. Brainstorm with both the wheelchair-bound cheerleader and the other cheerleaders on the squad to come up with routines that work for everyone.
A great way to build team unity between all the cheerleaders is to put everyone into a wheelchair for a routine, whether disabled or not. This will put all the cheerleaders into the shoes of the wheelchair-bound cheerleader and help them understand the limitations and effort involved in cheering from a wheelchair. This may spark many ideas for adapting routines and using special abilities of the wheelchair cheerleader in cheers.
Some squads put everyone into a wheelchair for a half-time show and complete a routine in wheelchairs. This can be a very powerful and moving routine that brings the crowd to its feet. It also shows that the squad is of one accord and welcomes everyone on the squad for the abilities they bring.
Adding wheelchair cheerleading to your squad offers disabled students an opportunity to be involved in school sports and to cheer their team on to victory. It can also be an important lesson for other cheerleaders on the squad about diversity and compassion. Although you may not yet see a lot of wheelchair cheerleading locally, this is certain to become more popular as more and more squads find success with incorporating wheelchairs into their practices.