Cheer Team Is Home for One Special Student

One of the best things about making the cheerleading squad is the bond you form with your team. For 14-year-old Lora Harrington, the love of her teammates is even more special.

Lora has wanted to be a cheerleader as long as she can remember — “Ever since I was a baby, I’ve been yelling,” she told the Statesman Journal newspaper of Salem, Ore. As she grew up, she dressed in cheer outfits and did chants at family members’ games.

So when she started her freshman year at West Salem High School, it was only natural that she’d take all that spirit and try out for junior varsity cheerleading. Her mother, Cory Wingett, was nervous.

Lora has Down Syndrome, and her mother told the newspaper she has been excluded from events and activities all her life. Cory thought cheerleading would be more of the same.

Except there, Lora found a home. The coaches and cheerleaders have worked to make her included from tryouts on. Coach Aarika Guerrero made sure Lora had the cheers ahead of tryouts so she could practice them with her speech therapist. During tryouts, when Lora got nervous and hid by the bleachers, Coach Guerrero went to help her and Abby, one of the cheerleaders, went with her as well.

“(Lora) said, ‘I’m fine.’ Abby took it upon herself. She made eye contact with her and said, ‘I really want to practice. Can you come over and help me practice?'” Coach Guerrero told the newspaper.

That was just the start. Lora’s teammates helped her memorize the words and motions to all their cheers. She gets to pick which cheers to practice. And two of her teammates even planned an elaborate Homecoming dance invitation for her.

“She hasn’t always had choices like this,” said Maddie Williams. “It feels really great to make her happy.”

Lora may have joined the cheerleading squad to raise others’ spirits, but she’s found a team that raises her own!

You can see Lora and her teammates cheering here.

Photo c/o the Statesman Journal