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Great Achievers


Tuesday, February 15, 2011 @ 10:22 AM

By Emily Simino, Sophomore at Heritage High School, Brentwood California

Most girls dream of being a Cheerleader, inspiring others by promoting the spirit of the school, wearing the illustrious uniform, which clearly identifies one as belonging to something bigger than they are. This is the ultimate desire that so many teenager girls strive for, "acceptance". Many times this character building experience takes on a different role. Ironically, cheerleaders are thought of as self-absorbed, caddy girls who measure their own value on looks and popularity, constantly judging others harshly, as they are reminded of their own mortality, by researching each other’s "Facebook status". In reality, they are all searching for their own acceptance.

High school is difficult, students are judgmental, teachers are overwhelmed, classes are overcrowded, and campuses are dangerous. One does not need to climb Mt. Diablo or run a 10K to recognize the satisfaction of achieving a goal. My friend Emily has always wanted to be a cheerleader. She expected nothing less. Her parents were concerned and clearly understood the difficulty to be accepted in such a competitive arena. Acceptance is something that so many of us strive for and struggle with throughout high school and beyond. Recently, Emily has taught me a great deal about this subject.

Emily McDaniel is a freshman at Heritage High School and is a member of the JV Cheer team. Emily and I have been friends since fifth grade but never had a class together. We hang out with the same group of friends but were not best friends. We love to swim, go shopping, bowling and dance together. We love cupcakes, pajamas and talking on the phone until all hours of the night. Finding out that we were on the same cheer team was a dream come true for me. Life works in mysterious ways, and we should never forget that there is a plan for each of us. But little did I know at the time, Emily’s presence on this team would be life changing for everyone who took the time to get to know her.

You see, Emily has the ability to soften the hardest of hearts, to recognize the very best in everyone, measuring ones value on the size of one’s smile and the sound of their laugh. Despite Emily’s own daily challenges with "Up syndrome", she exemplifies what a true cheerleader should strive to be. Emily radiates an awareness of the world that is so inspiring, I find myself looking at life through her eyes. She has taught me (and hopefully our fellow teammates), to suspend judgment and love unconditionally.

Behind every successful person, there is a team of support. Emily has many "real life" cheerleaders that support her in her everyday life, including her mom, dad and older sister. Looking through Emily’s eyes, being a cheerleader is just part of going to high school, just like her sister Katie. Emily doesn’t realize what happened behind the scenes in order for this opportunity to take place. Heritage High is part of a school district that doesn’t seem to value this opportunity. Maybe they underestimate the positive impact that this would bring? Maybe the "big shots" in their cozy offices don’t even know what is taking place on campus? To date, the district has never had a special needs student be part of a cheer team. Michelle is a seasoned mom who was all too familiar of what she was up against. She was able to make it happen without involving the "big shots" and for that reason, her daughter Emily and hopefully other students will have the opportunity to shine.

Our Coach, Shannon does not make a distinction, expecting the same attempt as the rest of the team. When we are not listening and the coach makes us run, we all run, including Emily. When a girl talks back to our coach, Emily is quick to call them out and we all run. And when we practice our cheers, Emily shakes her booty with the rest of the team. Her spirit outshines any synchronized routine any day. Understanding the commitment, Emily never misses practice and looks forward to all the games. Emily takes great pride in her uniform, as she looks forward to "game days". This is a chance to show everyone that she is a Heritage high school student and she is proud to show everyone around her who she is.

Emily’s typical day is in a classroom of her "peers". I often wonder why I don’t see her around campus. Is it really the best thing for her? Does that mean that I am not her peer, even though we are friends? Why don’t I see her at lunch? Why does Emily have to stay with her "peers" while our team hangs out together? Why does Emily miss out on the campus activities even though she is part of the cheer team? I then realized the magnitude of it all. When Emily is dressed in her uniform, she is no longer considered special, slow, or whatever label people give her. She is a cheerleader! That really is the only label I can think of that really describes my friend. It is her ticket out of the segregated environment where everybody makes decisions for her. It is her time to shine and show our whole school that she is also a student at this school. Emily is a cheerleader and she is accepted and respected as a significant member of our team. The Heritage JV Cheer team.

The uniform has become a symbol of acceptance. Each time I put my uniform on; I can’t help but think of Emily. She reminds us all of the importance of teamwork, respect and pride for our school. To always give 100% and take nothing for granted. Emily’s presence on this team has influenced all who opened their hearts to her message. So it’s not hard to get fired up on game days, knowing that this is Emily’s time where she can show the whole school that she belongs, that she is accepted, that we are all in this together. It is a great life lesson and that is why I need to share Emily’s lesson with everyone.

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