Fourteen-year-old Madison “Maddie” Thompson is an eighth-grade cheerleader at Coyle Middle School. She has Down syndrome but hasn’t let that define her or keep her from achieving her goal of making the high school cheer squad. In fact, Maddie recently made the freshman cheer squad at Rowlett High School, making her the first student in the Auxiliary Cheer Program to make a high school cheer team in the district.
Garland ISD’s Auxiliary Cheer Program gives special needs students a chance at making the cheer squad as an auxiliary position. The students receive physical accommodations needed to audition with the rest of the team and earn a spot by meeting the minimum score needed as opposed to competing against other students. Making the team means they get the same privileges and responsibilities.
Garland ISD’s Fine Arts Coordinator David Sanders is the person behind the program’s creation. He has also been approached by other school districts, fine arts directors, superintendents and parents to learn more about their Auxiliary Cheer Program.
"She's paved the way for this to happen at other campuses. This was just a pilot program at Coyle last year,” Sanders said. “It went great, so we expanded it to all of our middle school and high school campuses for this current cheerleading season."
He added that now there are other middle schools with auxiliary cheerleaders.
Maddie isn’t new to cheerleading. Aside from cheering for Coyle, she is also part of a private cheer team with Cheer Athletics. She said she’s been cheering since the age of 4 and doing gymnastics since the age of 5.
She works hard and puts in the hours. Maddie practices 7-9 hours a day and squeezes in practices whenever she can, even during class.
"I did a lot of cartwheels, front rolls, backward rolls and handstands,” she said of her tryout, adding that the hardest part was doing a back handspring into a front roll.
Maddie said she felt uncomfortable and a bit nervous during tryouts, but when she made the team she felt great and was confident she’d make it.
She even has a friend, Texas Christian University cheerleader Cami Branson, who came out to help her practice and train. Recently Branson and others at TCU held a BBQ fundraiser for Maddie to help raise the money for her cheerleading fees.
"I'm looking forward to making new friends,” she said of next year.
Maddie said many of her Coyle friends also made the cheerleading team at RHS, and she’s looking forward to wearing Rowlett colors, excited for the big crowds and pep rallies.
Her advice to others who want to be cheerleaders: “I would tell them to keep their head up if they don’t make cheer team, and if they make it it’s a lot of fun.”