Spring of 2016 marked the official debut of the Iowa State University Sparkles, making Iowa the first state in the nation to have inclusive cheerleading programs at all major public universities.

The Sparkle Effect, a nationwide nonprofit, has helped students generate over 160 inclusive cheerleading and dance programs since 2009.

The University of Northern was the first to join the movement for inclusion, starting their team in December of 2013. The University of Iowa followed suit in spring 2015. All three collegiate teams were spearheaded by cheerleaders who participated on Sparkle Effect teams while in high school. In fact, several founding members cheered for the inaugural Spartan Sparkles team at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, IA.

In a recent interview with the Des Moines Register, Iowa State student Mara Mapes reported, “The Sparkle Effect is one of those activities that grabs your heart and holds on . . . From Sparkles, I’ve figured out I want to work with people. I want to take all the things I’ve learned from Sparkles – treating people right, integrity, being authentic and genuine to everyone no matter what – and make it a job.”

The Sparkle Effect’s motto, “When everyone cheers, everyone wins,” seems to ring true for the Iowa schools. Students and parents alike reflect on the benefits they’ve gleaned from the program. The mother of one Hawkeye Sparkles member explains, “[My daughter] is so introverted and this has brought her out of her shell . . . She just gets to be herself. She puts all of her energy into this. Every day she’ll ask, ‘Is it a Sparkles day? It makes me really emotional actually. There hasn’t been anything like this in her life before.”

The Sparkle Effect has helped kick start the social inclusion movement in numerous schools nationwide, and hopes to continue advancing all forms of social inclusion, on and off the practice mat. “But until then,” reports Linda Mullen, Executive Director of The Sparkle Effect, “we’ll be out there on game night, on the field, cheering loudly.”

Watch more on The Sparkle Effect from USA TODAY here.

Source: The Des Moines Register | Photos c/o The Sparkle Effect