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Student Life

Despite challenges cheering prevails

Children with disabilities are consistently challenged in the classroom to make strides in their education, and now with an increase in special needs independent club sports, they challenge themselves to excel athletically.

Competitive cheerleading is a sport that has been around for decades and incorporates stunting and tumbling. It is a sport which takes a tremendous amount of coordination and ability.   Competitive cheerleaders range from children in first grade all the way up to seniors in high school, some divisions even allow college students and adults to compete.

But each year special needs competitive cheerleading teams are increasing in size, number, and popularity.  There are special needs competitive cheerleading club teams across the state of Florida, and many more located in other states across the nation.

Florida Top Dog All-Stars is a competitive cheerleading gym located in Clearwater.  Athletes of all ages and skill levels come in and out of their gym, but one group of kids in particular is especially important to them.  The team goes by Top Dog Too, a team devoted to children with varying disabilities.

Top Dog Too holds practices once a week for an hour and a half, and like the other teams in the gym, they attend various competitions throughout the year.  They have five scheduled competitions to attend this season.  Dawn Graham, a former athlete of Florida Top Dog All-Stars, has a younger brother Chad, who has a special place in everyone’s heart at the gym.  Graham was on the original Top Dog Too team, and is still going strong as well as playing on a special needs bowling league.

“For him to have the chance to participate in this is truly amazing,” Graham said.  “It is extremely beneficial, keeps him active, but most importantly he has fun and loves performing in front of people.”

David Hoppey, special education professor, says these club sports are enormously helpful, even for children with more significant disabilities.

“I believe they should be allowed to participate on the level they can compete whether it be Paralympics, Special Olympics or on regular youth, high school, or college sports teams,” he said.

According to USA Gymnastics, sports that are especially fundamental and movement education based sports provide tremendous benefits for children with special needs.

The coaches and other athletes who assist this team are well trained and know each particular athlete’s limits.  With this information, they try to incorporate everything into their routine so that every child feels special.


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