HERRIMAN, Utah -- Underneath a park gazebo, about a dozen girls and boys grabbed their pom poms and followed along as the coaches counted "5, 6, 7, 8." Thursday was the first time the Inclusion Cheer Team has been able to practice in person since COVID-19 first began impacting Utah.
The Inclusion Cheer Team is made up of about 20 men, women, boys and girls with disabilities between the ages of 8 and 50.
“I am the lucky one here,” said Chelsea Lopez, head coach and founder of Inclusion Cheer.
A few years ago, Lopez decided to start the team and she said it’s been the most amazing blessing.
“Every single day, they just make my day,” she said.
The team used to practice at Herriman High School and then moved to Zoom at the start of the pandemic. The team is ready to return to in-person, socially distanced practices, but they have nowhere to go, Lopez said.
“We just don’t have anywhere to go and so it just breaks my heart because I just don’t know what to do,” she said.
With winter coming soon, the group can’t rely on public parks. Beth Nestman’s daughter Amanda is a member of the team and has down syndrome. This cheer team has changed her life, Nestman said.
“I’d watch her at school sometimes and she would be off by herself or she would just be quiet. This has gotten her, I mean, they talk to each other even if they don’t understand. They have this communication,” she said.
It’s given Amanda the confidence she always needed, Nestman said.
“I’ve watched Amanda when she’s here. She just blossoms, and then she’s ... bold and brave, doing those kicks. She’s just never done stuff like that,” Nestman said.
The thought of the team having nowhere to practice or even just the idea of them having to bounce around is difficult, Nestman said.
“To have a familiar place where they can go and practice, then they are more willing to go. They recognize it,” she said.
During the pandemic, this has been Amanda’s piece of normal that she looks forward to, Nestman said.
“If this went away, I truly have no idea how I would possibly replace that,” she said.
Inclusion Cheer offers teammates a safe space to learn, grow and have fun.
“For some of them, this is what they look forward to every week. This is their thing, this is their family,” Lopez said.
“It’s been hard because we’re not together all the time,” cheerleader Robin Klein said.
Inclusion Cheer is a non-profit run by volunteers. Lopez hopes the community will be able to help find a spot for the team to practice once a week.
To donate to the non-profit’s GoFundMe page, click here.
People can also donate through Venmo @inclusioncheer. To contact the coaches about a potential spot for the team to practice, email email@example.com .