Cosby cheerleaders launch all-inclusive squad

Published: Nov. 3, 2015 at 5:12 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 14, 2015 at 9:17 PM EST
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MIDLOTHIAN, VA (WWBT) - They are the cheers behind the football team, under the Friday night lights. There are rows of smiling Cosby High School cheerleaders, rallying the crowd and cheering on the boys on the field. However, the team isn't just cheering for a win. They're also sending a big message about inclusiveness and why every person, and every voice, is important.

Cosby High School has started the first "Sparkle Effect" squad in Virginia, encouraging special needs students to cheer alongside everyone else, as one team. Varsity Coach Megan Deluccia said she can already see the impact. "They love it! They love it! That's the best part of it for me! To see how happy they are to be out there!" Deluccia said.

Janai Santiago was one of the special needs participants, who goes to a rival school. She has always wanted to participate in the "Sparkles Effect." She started crying when she started talking about doing the Sparkle on the team. "They love me," she said. "I feel special. Lots of fun with the girls and Coach Megan!"

It was a lot of fun for her mom to watch as well. "It's just so awesome to see something that she's always wanted to do sort of unfold for her," Jacqueline Santiago, Janai's mom, said. "I feel so proud of her, because we've always taught her that there are no limitations and we've never... treated her any differently."

The moment was something special for all the girls who get to perform with Janai and the other Sparkle girls. "I'm honored to be a part of this team," Gabrielle Ernesto, Cosby High School senior, said. "I couldn't ask for any better team."

"It opens their eyes and they see that no matter who you are, no matter what is going on in your life, there's still a place for you," Deluccia said. "You can have a big heart, and you can accept anyone in and make their lives just a little bit better by having a little bit of spirit."

The girls walk arm in arm around the track, which is a moment that shows anyone watching, that it's working.

There are discussions about starting Sparkle teams at some other schools in the coming seasons.

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