LYNDHURST, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Cheerleaders help to lift fans’ spirits at games, and one squad in Lyndhurst has gotten everyone going.
The Sparks Cheerleaders are a team of special needs cheerleaders who perform all over New Jersey — showcasing their skills at games and competitions.
Deborah Wertalik started the team 11 years ago, when her grandson Tyler was diagnosed with autism. He’s now 15.
“Lou noise, loud music, bright lights, crowds, all the things that they say our kids are not capable of doing and they do it week after week,” she told CBS2’s Cindy Hsu.
Savannah is 6-years-old and has a rare genetic disorder that can cause more than 150 seizures in a day. Her mother said Sparks is her family on and off the mat.
“We almost lost her this past January due to all the seizures, but she’s thriving and she keeps on getting stronger and proving to everybody nothings going to stop her and she’s going to keep going,” her mother Kimberly Bona said.
Several high school cheerleaders volunteer with the team and said the experience has changed their lives.
“I’m gong to college next year and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but working with them I want to go into special needs and helping people,” Alyssa Engel said.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, so now I want to go towards more special needs teaching,” Caroline Balawender said.
Mindy Keszerman also has big dreams.
“I want to be a fashion designer,” she said.
Francesca has autism and was a little girl when she started. She’s now 16 and her little brother Connor joined the team to give her some help with complicated stunts.
“Sparks is a great organization, and it’s changed both of our lives,” he said, “It’s a whole group of the special needs community and they can all turn to each other, and they’re not singled out by anybody. Even at competitions everybody knows, everybody understands.”
It’s understanding and awareness the Sparks want to pass on.
The group’s first competition this year in November. A documentary is also being made about the group, so the sky is the limit.