Published on August 1st, 2014 | by Kim Conley
Cheerleaders of the Month: Shelby & Samantha Swanson
Meet Shelby and Samantha, twin sisters from Le Claire, Iowa. They both cheered at Pleasant Valley High School, where they were also mentors on the Spartan Sparkles squad, the nation’s first high school-based cheerleading team to bring together students with and without disabilities. The concept behind the Sparkles became known as the Sparkle Effect, an innovative program dedicated to helping students create inclusive cheerleading teams.
Fast forward to today. The Sparkle Effect has spread nationwide, generating over 100 teams. Shelby and Samantha are going to be juniors at separate colleges, Shelby at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Samantha at the University of Northern Iowa. They may not be cheering for the same school anymore, but that hasn’t stopped either of them from taking their “sparkle” to the next level.
After much promotion, preparation and practice, Shelby successfully started the Pioneer Sparkles at UW-Plateville. She presented the idea to to her cheer coach and athletic director during her freshman year, and within a few months, the first collegiate cheerleading team to include students with disabilities was formed.
“The parents tell us how grateful they are that their child has a chance to be part of a team,” Shelby shared with her school newspaper. “For the Sparkles, it instills confidence. For us mentors, it makes us realize what we have. You can see the changes in attitudes that reflect that.”
The following year, Samantha decided that she too wanted to replicate the magic of the Sparkle Effect. She did exactly that by bringing her passion for helping others to her university and creating the UNI Sparkles.
“I want to be a good role model and make a positive impact on the world,” Samantha said. “The only way to do that is to take action and encourage others to include everyone, no matter what someone’s ability level may be.”
Word has gotten out about the Swanson sisters and the incredible programs they’ve built. They’ve already been recognized locally and nationally by their schools, communities, the Sparkle Effect and numerous media outlets, including ESPN. But they prefer the attention focused on the Sparkle cheerleaders and the opportunities provided by their programs.
“We want to encourage other colleges, as well as high schools and middle schools, to follow our lead and begin their own inclusive cheerleading squads,” Shelby explained.
“Being a Sparkle changes these kids. They come out of their shell,” Samantha said. “It serves as inspiration that anyone can do anything they put their mind to.”
Shelby is currently studying Communications Technologies, while Samantha is majoring in Elementary Education. Though these twins have different career aspirations, they definitely share one thing – a kind heart.
To learn how you can start a Sparkle Effect squad in your community, click here.
by: Kim Conley