'Close to our heart' - Gym, cheerleaders partner to coach special needs children

Published on Thursday, 6 February 2014 22:53 - Written by Betty Waters bwaters@tylerpaper.com

A new cheerleading team composed of special needs children made its debut Thursday during the half-time show of The University of Texas at Tyler Patriots basketball game.

Ten team members wearing matching turquoise blue shirts energetically performed stunts, jumps and routines choreographed to music and chanted “UT Tyler” while clapping.

Ava Penkilo, 7, of Tyler, said she especially liked to build a pyramid with other members of the team. The girl smiled broadly and enthusiastically as she was lifted aloft.

She has developmental challenges and limitations although she is able to do a lot of things her peers can do, her mother, Monica Penkilo said.

It was a wonderful opportunity, Ms. Penkilo said, when they heard that Gym Tyler Gymnastics and the UT Tyler Patriot cheerleaders were joining to provide cheerleading training for special needs children.

“It’s a small group and they work really closely with the children and made it easier for them to learn to cheer,” Ms. Penkilo said.

Her daughter loves to entertain people, get excited, jump around and have a good time, so the show Tuesday was an opportunity for her to shine and be accepted in the spotlight, Ms. Penkilo said.

Tenesha Gaut, of Longview, learned about the new Tyler cheer group for special needs children from her daughter’s physical therapist.

She said that by participating in the cheer group, her daughter, Shelberly Moore, 13, is learning sportsmanship and coordination and better how to walk.

Lauren Yordy, 10, of Gilmer, said she likes to cheer and to perform. Her mother, Crystal Yordy, said it gives her something to do even though she is not able to do a lot. Her daughter said she likes to cheer.

 Gym Tyler Gymnastics has four regular cheer teams that have competed in cheer competitions for about 12 years and noticed special needs teams that a lot of big cities have implemented, Kim Johnson, owner, said.

 “For the last three years, we have been thinking about it and praying about putting it in our program,” she said. “It’s close to our heart that we wanted to do this (start a Tyler special needs cheer team).”

 Gym Tyler Gymnastics conducted a free mini cheer clinic last Sunday for 16 special needs children ranging in age from 5 to 22. UT Tyler Patriot cheerleaders assisted.

 “We taught them a routine and some cheers,” Ms. Johnson said. The children just lit up and smiled through the whole thing, she observed, saying they were engaged and excited to be at the clinic.

 Cheering helps them socially and it’s going to help them develop motor skills that otherwise might not have developed, Ms. Johnson said.

 Starting in August, the special needs cheer group will be part of Gym Tyler Gymnastics’ program, she announced. A special needs cheer team will go with the gym’s four regular cheer teams to competitions from November through April, she added.

 Although only girls have shown interest in the special needs cheer team so far, boys will be accepted, Ms. Johnson said.

 For more information, call 903-593-2931.