A Pop Warner group based out of Webster, Massachusetts has a variety of special needs that make this brand new South County Challenger Cheer Team incredibly special.
"The first day they did the entire routine, I think every single one of us cried," said Matthew Czernicki’s mom, Bonnie.
There were tears of joy for 8-year-old Matthew Czernicki’s parents, who had tried several adaptive sports teams for their son with Down Syndrome – with little success.
"In the beginning I was very skeptical." Bonnie said.
"When they cheer and they clap for him, you see him get this wave of energy and he just wants to do it more," said Matthew’s dad, Jim Czernicki.
The repetition of these routines is key for Matthew and his teammates – who have varying challenges, like autism and intellectual delays.
"Even though they’re all a little bit different, there are a lot of things that they have in common and it kind of bonds them together," head coach Ashley Ferraro said.
And it doesn’t hurt that they have a coach with endless patience, a caring heart and a background in teaching.
"Being a special-ed teacher too means that I have a lot of visual supports; visuals are everything for these kids," Ferraro said.
The coach has even written out some of these cheers on cue cards and she’s set up a color-coded schedule broken into 10 to 15 minute increments for practice.
"Every day that I work with them they grow in so many different ways," Ferraro said.
That growth is evident to 9-year-old Abbigail Tripp’s mom, who said her daughter lights up when she’s cheering with her team.
"I wanted to put Abbigail in something where she doesn’t feel different, and this team clicked with her," said Abbigail’s mom Jill Hultquist.
Abbigail said her favorite part is the friends she has made.
For these kids who individually have seemed to have the odds stacked against them, it turns out being a part of this team is about much more than cheerleading.
"It kind of gives you the idea that anything is possible," Ferraro said.