NEW KENT – On top of the pyramid, New Kent Middle School student Brooke Kelly feels on top of the world.
Brooke, a seventh grader, is the newest member of the NKMS Lions cheerleading squad, and despite having a disability, has shined in the routines.
Brooke, 13, was born with Down syndrome, a generic chromosome disorder that causes physical and mental delays.
However, her disability has never stopped her from trying new things, said her mother, Jill.
According to her mom, Brooke, a Special Olympics athlete, became fascinated with cheerleading at the end of the school year last year and “was determined to tryout for the team.”
With the help of NKMS Cheer Coach Tamika Hathaway, Brooke was able to learn the cheers, routines, and specific movements for the tryouts.
“Mrs. Hathaway gave Brooke a paper with all the information on it. It was a little more complicated than Brooke is used to learning, but she did great,” said Jill, who along with husband Chris, helped Brooke practice her routines.
It was Hathaway's persistence and confidence in Brooke that most impressed her family.
“Mrs. Hathaway didn't even think twice before allowing Brooke on the team,” she said. “It has been a great experience.”
Since making the NKMS cheerleading squad, Brooke has blossomed.
“Cheerleading has helped her self-esteem and confidence. I feel like she just matured overnight,” said Jill.
However, what is most important to Brooke, according to her mother, is the acceptance.
“I don't think the other girls see Brooke as the girl with a disability. She is part of the team and that means a lot to her,” Jill said.
This is good for Brooke, she added, because she spends most of the school day in special education classes with all boys.
“When she cheers, she is just one of the girls,” said Jill, who added that Brooke and her fellow cheerleaders are in the process of planning sleepovers.
For Jill, it's important that Brooke have both special needs friends and non-special needs friends, so that she can be well rounded and a role model for other special needs kids.
“It's nice that Brooke can show other kids with special needs that they can have all different kinds of friends and be accepted,” Jill said. “It definitely boosts Brooke's confidence, and I hope it shows kids with disabilities that they can do anything they want.”
Brooke is not only an athletic role model, but an academic role model as well.
“Brooke loves school. She's a straight-A student, and since being with her teacher, Mrs. Cheri Luton, she has just excelled so much, by leaps and bounds,” said Jill.
On Monday, October 7, Brooke will be cheering alongside her squad for the NKMS girls' basketball team, which will face Queen's Lake at 4:30 p.m.
Jill and her family are admittedly extremely proud of Brooke's accomplishments with her squad, but are even more impressed by her moral integrity.
“Brooke has proven to all of us that it doesn't matter who you are, the color of your skin, or how you were born,” Jill said.
“She's just happy all the time and accepts people for who they are.”
“I never cease to be amazed by her.”
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.