California sunshine, friendly competition and 232 cheerleaders from across the nation. No, we’re not talking about another championship. For the first time in history, the Special Olympics World Games invited cheerleading teams from coast to coast to light up the sidelines, inspire athletes and energize fans.

The Special Olympics World Games, held July 25-August 2, is the largest event hosted by Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with over 7,000 athletes competing from 177 countries. This year, 17 different cheer teams from eight states performed in the Opening Ceremonies and have continued cheering throughout the week for athletes from across the globe.

As part of the week’s events, I was invited to take part in the Special Olympics Social Impact Summit, where I spoke about The Sparkle Effect and the power of youth activism. I was in very good company. The Special Olympics brought together an amazing lineup of accomplished and diverse speakers – NBA star Damian Lillard and Olympic snowboarder Hannah Teter, just to name a few. While each presenter had a different area of expertise, we shared the same goal of using athletics to bring people together, inspire change and make the world a better place.

Unsurprisingly, some of the most powerful game-changers present at the Summit and the World Games have a background in cheerleading! Kevin Martinez, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship at ESPN and former University of Washington cheerleader, spoke about ESPN’s efforts to use sport for social good and shared this incredible video with Summit attendees.

As always, cheerleaders remained at the forefront of the social inclusion movement. Several teams present at the Games have been actively involved with The Sparkle Effect for years. The Special Olympics even invited our Sparkle Effect team from Mercer Island High School to join me at the Summit. The Sparkles performed an impressive and spirited routine, serving as a shining example of the next generation of inclusive athletes.

It was such a thrill to represent the cheerleading community and share all that we have contributed to inclusion in athletics. For more information on cheerleading and the Special Olympics, please visit