Sparklers cheerleaders pump up crowds at school functions despite disabilities


Senior Sparklers Cheer captain Genesis Montanez pumps up the crowd as she chants “DHS the Best” at a recent pep rally in Sandra Meadows Arena. The tem is one of five in the state. (Ciara Thibodaux photo)

Sparklers cheer team captain Genesis Montanez rolls her wheelchair onto the Sandra Meadows Arena floor to the front of the formation so she can lead the squad in their favorite cheer. The team decked out in their blue and red cheer uniforms, focuses on their cheer with excitement as they prepare for their performance in front of a packed out pep rally crowd.

Senior Sparklers Cheer captain Genesis Montanez pumps up the crowd as she chants "DHS the Best" at a recent pep rally in Sandra Meadows Arena. The tem is one of five in the state. (Ariana Canchola photo)
The arena booms as the crowd gives the team a standing ovation. Montanez smiles and begins the first cheer of the day.

“DHS the Best,” Montanez shouts as she lifts her pom poms high the air. “DHS the Best,” she yells again.

The rest of the crowd joins her and the team shouting “DHS the Best” as the girls on the floor soak up the limelight beside their partner cheerleader who assists them with their cheers.

“I love seeing the girls’ faces when they are preforming-even if it is at practice.” senior cheerleader Rachael Roberts said. “They get so excited and their smiles are priceless.”

Duncanville High School is now home to one of the only five special needs cheer squads in the state. Last year, the squad’s coach Elizabeth Thompson registered with a student-run program called The Sparkle Effect. This program helps start and support cheer and dance teams that include students with disabilities. The program also provides grant money to help boost the squad and training for coaches. This began a journey to change the lives of students in the special education program at the high school.

“I’ve noticed that the girls have more confidence and are better behaved,” Thompson said. “They are true leaders in our program and they model good behavior for all the rest of our kids. Some of the girls have really come out of their shells.”

The squad has four peer partners who are regular education students. There are also other cheerleaders who cheer with the Sparklers at pep rallies and football games to model and assist with cheers.

“I wanted to join from the beginning because I loved the idea and I thought it would be a rewarding experience.” Roberts said. “I knew that I would enjoy being a part of the Sparklers, but I did not expect it to be as much fun as it really is.”

The Sparklers have regular performances at football games and pep rallies. The squad also performed at Byrd Middle School, the Special Olympics track meet and the annual Duncanville Football fire truck pull. For the girls participating in Sparklers the group is a special experience.

“My favorite part of Sparklers it just having fun and cheering,” Montanez said. “My favorite cheer that we do at pep rallies and football games is ‘DHS the Best’. We all love cheering.”

Senior Sparklers member Ashley Gonzalez said she enjoys cheering at the football games and pep rallies with her friends and feels comfortable participating with the group.

“I know the other girls on the team care about me,” Gonzalez said. “We can cheer and have fun and if we mess up it is okay because we are all one big family.”

Thompson said the girls on the the team are learning important skills and it is interesting for her to watch this learning process and growth in the girls’ confidence.

“The kids are learning social skills outside of the school environment,” Thompson said. “They are learning how to be a part of a club and interact with their peers. It is interesting to see the things they are learning as part of the Sparklers Cheer team because they are learning things beyond what I could teach them in the classroom.”
DHS sparklers perform at the homecoming pep rally on Oct.11. Photographer Ariana Canchola was at hand to cover the event.