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Unified cheerleading team helping special needs kids
- Updated: June 14, 2013
They are the Alexandrites, a group of competitive cheerleaders who cheer and help each other.
Melissa Mansi, a former cheerleader who is now getting her special education teaching credential coaches the team and helped start the program, a program that includes 3 special needs teammates.
They all love her.
“It’s lots of fun. I get to hang out with Mandi,” said Mary Ellen Weaving.
22-year old Mary Ellen Weaving is autistic and thriving on the squad.
Just like her 18 year old sister, Melissa, who is on the autism spectrum and suffers from high anxiety.
Mansi found out about cheerleading for us and for me, and Mansi said there’s a special needs team on Spirit and I said, why not go for it.
“They’re excelling in everything,” said mother Michelle Weaving. “Just in social activities they’re excelling they’re I don’t know, growing, blossoming.”
Michelle Weaving drives her daughters each week from Branford to the gym in Greenwich.
“You do what you have to do when you’re kids are happy. And they’re happy here,” she said.
As is JJ… a 6 year old with severe ADHD and developmental delays. He comes from Stratford.
“They’re always interacting with people and you see that growth for them socially,” said Mansi. “So now they’re not so shy going into a new environment or meeting new people. They have that experience of even being on a team.”
With the help of their typical learning teammates, they are able to practice, and compete.
I never looked at it as a community service, I looked to it as coming in and smiling every Sunday and enjoying it as a team,” said teammate Taylor Ingraham.
And they have won as a team. They recently took 1st place at a competition in Baltimore. They have the prizes to prove it.
But for everyone else involved in the program the prize is much more personal.
“People see them compete, they see the final piece but they don’t see the growth,” Mansi said. “That’s where I get emotional.
“They are accepted. No matter what their disabilities are no matter what they do, coach Manzi fits them in,” said Michelle Weaving. “They’re accepted by their friends and they’re all the same.”