ROCHESTER, Minn. - Wednesday was a big day for nearly a dozen athletes in the Med City hoping to make a particular cheerleading squad.
Above the John Marshall gymnasium doors, it says ‘John Marshall Rockets.’ Perhaps it should say, ‘Rochester Shining Stars’ after the adaptive cheerleading squad that has caught the heart of Rochester.
The idea for the squad was brainstormed in 2005. A year later, head coach Valerie Wassmer said dreams became a reality.
“I used to coach the all-star competitive cheer team in Rochester and I was on the coaching team. Every year we would go to nationals there was a Special Olympics team that performed,” said Wassmer. “Several of my cheerleaders and coaches were really inspired by that and in 2005, several of the cheerleaders from John Marshall and century decided that we were going to start a team.”
With the help of Rochester Parks and Recreation, the cheerleaders sacrificed their senior seasons to allow differently-abled athletes to enjoy the sport they love.
“My favorite part of being on Shining Stars is doing the spider dance, cartwheeling, and doing our final stunts,” said Leigha Determan.
“I like cartwheeling and I like doing pom-poms,” said Amelia Hain.
Torin Roberts has been with the team for 12 years and now serves as a volunteer assistant coach. He conceded it is not quite the same on the sidelines.
“It’s a little different. I help the athletes out with where they’re supposed to be in the lineup and make sure they stay in their lines,” he said.
For this passionate squad of cheerleaders, it is not about winning and losing. It is about forming friendships, learning life lessons, and becoming a part of something much bigger than their disabilities.
“One of the first years we did this, we had an athlete that was interviewed by the Big Ten Network and they asked her what it meant to her and she got very emotional and said, ‘mom, there’s people that look like me here on the team’ and that’s why we do it and I continue to do it after 14 years.
The Rochester Shining Stars will make appearances at Rochester high school basketball games, and compete in the Twin Cities this winter.