They can shake a pompom like the best of them.
For a group of students at Andover High School, the dream of being a cheerleader is well within reach thanks to a program that’s been in place for seven years.
AHS varsity football and basketball cheerleaders have taken on the role of mentors for a squad of girls with disabilities ranging in age from 6 to 18.
Alex Talbot, a student at Andover High who counts cheerleading as a favorite pastime, is one of the members of the Team Spirit squad.
“It’s a good way to meet a boy,” she said with a giggle and smile. “And, I love to dance. We get to dance.”
AHS cheerleaders Catherine Haut and Courtney Comeau, the squad’s co-coaches who have been cheering together since the fourth grade, see the program as a way to share something they love.
“It’s important for these girls to be involved with cheering,” Haut, a junior, said.
But the squad isn’t just for girls. Boys are welcome — and even encouraged — to join, too.
Team Spirit practices once a week on Sundays for an hour. The squad is gearing up for an appearance at the summer Special Olympics at Harvard University, and will be cheering at the opening ceremonies on June 7.
“They are the cheeriest team around,” said Team Spirit coordinator Cathy Torres, who recently put out a call on the AHS parent newsletter to recruit more Special Olympic team members in hopes of growing the program.
Torres said the AHS cheerleaders have been great mentors over the years and she typically has to turn potential mentors away because the squad is small.
“The cheerleaders always help us. They are such great kids,” Torres said.
Team Spirit squad member Katie Garofoli credits the AHS cheer squad with spreading the excitement of cheering.
“Those cheerleaders really get us pumped up.... I like that,” Garofoli said.
In the past, Team Spirit has cheered to the music of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks.” This year’s song will be “Who Says” by Selena Gomez, which was chosen because of its inspiring and uplifting message.
Haut said the cheering mentors are looking forward to putting the new routine together in the coming weeks. And once they do, Colleen MacPhee is ready to give it her all.
“I really like to cheer,” MacPhee said. “This is a great thing for us.”
Anyone who knows someone who might be interested in joining Team Spirit should contact Cathy Torres at firstname.lastname@example.org or Catherine Haut at email@example.com.