SPRINGFIELD TWP.  Cheers went up at the Springfield High School gymnasium Feb. 24, not for the basketball or volleyball teams, but, on this day, it was for the Sparkle cheerleaders.

The Springfield Sparkles held its first Spirit Spark-Tacular showcase with six Sparkle cheer teams from Northeast Ohio showing off what they do best. Approximately 100-plus cheerleaders participated. Teams giving the pep to the spectator filled gym were Hudson, Mentor, New Philadelphia, Super Learning Center, Special Olympics and Springfield. The event was exclusively for inclusive and special needs cheer and dance teams.

"Our group of parents and coaches have been planning and working very hard since November of 2017," said Terry Kyser, coach of the Springfield Sparkles. The group had weekly meetings up until the showcase. "We have a great group of parents whose excitement and enthusiasm in planning made our day even better than we ever expected."

The goal was to have a day showcasing inclusive cheer teams, special needs cheer teams, as well as individual and duo performances. It was a day to allow the students to shine.

Sparkle cheerleading began in 2008 when a group of high school cheerleaders in the state of Iowa formed a cheer team including students with and without disabilities. The program proved to be positive and became known as The Sparkle Effect Organization. The mission is to spread awareness in hopes that all high schools will open up opportunities to students with special needs.

The Spark-Tacular event at Springfield not only gave students a chance to perform, but also was a source of information for families and fun activities for all who attended.

"We were grateful to have support from several local businesses, private vendors and from our friends and families," said Kyser.

The GASP Organization (Guardians Advocating Child Safety and Protection) attended to offer free child ID kits and the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities brought a variety of information, including information about when to begin vocational training with students. Upside of Downs had information available for individuals with Down Syndrome and The Akron Autism Society offered information about Autism and the support it offers for people with Autism, and their families. Summit County Prosecutor Sheri Bevan Walsh and Leslie Knoblauch, representing the Take Me Home Program, a countywide initiative to support individuals with communication difficulties and their families, also attended. Stark State Occupational Therapy Assistant Students volunteered their time to interact and have fun games and activities for the cheerleaders before performance time.

"It was a huge honor to be invited to the Spirit Spark-tacular Showcase," said Richard Cole, a SUPER Learning Center board member. "We loved being able to partner with the community and we loved seeing all of the amazing students perform."

Cole added SUPER Learning Center cheerleaders won a trophy for Best Smile and Best Personality.

The cheerleaders had plenty of fun, not only with their performances but with some of the vendors. James Beaton, from In Focus Photo Booths, donated his photo booth and personalized event photo strips, allowing the cheerleaders, families and fans to get some pictures to remember the spirited day. Rubber City Santa arrived and offered his time with a family this coming December. Fraley Photography, a main supporter of the Springfield Sparkles, volunteered its time to take pictures of all performances and DJ services were provided by Bret Holden from One-T-Entertainment.

"The SUPER family is so very proud of our girls and all of their hard work," said Lyn Goodwin, founder and owner of SUPER Learning Center, who thanked the Springfield Sparkles for their hospitality. "We look forward to many more opportunities to collaborate with our local community in the future."

"With all of our preparation and planning, I knew our Spirit Showcase would be a great event, but it was better than great, it was truly "Spark"-Tacular," added Keyser, who then summed up the day by sending a message to the Sparkle Families, "It’s happening. Our program is making a difference and today, we made the world a better place."

Any student in Springfield Local School District is welcome to participate on the Sparkle Squad. If interested, contact the Springfield Athletic Department.  

Those taking home awards were:

Hudson Sparkles: Best enthusiasm and showmanship.

New Philadelphia Sparkles: The best spirit and energy.

Mentor: Show stopper award

Special Olympics cheer team: Best cheer and chant

Super Learning Center Cheer: Incredible personality and smile

Springfield Sparkles: Crowd-pleasing first place award