A Cheer For Keslie: Achieving A Longtime DreamPosted: Updated:
It's a Tuesday night and the Massena Red Raiders are taking on the Malone Huskies on home court.
A crowd of students and parents are there to watch the game and off to the sideline is the high school's cheer squad.
Standing proud in the second row is 20 year old Keslie Miller, the squad's newest member.
"I love being a cheerleader," Keslie said.
Keslie was born with Down syndrome, but it didn't stop her from wanting to live her dream. Her mother, Lisa Russell, says being a cheerleader is something she's wanted since she was a little girl.
"She saw the competitions I'd watch on TV and so she'd jump around the room and cheer and stuff."
One day during class, Keslie told her teacher, Roxanne Howard, that her dream was to be a cheerleader. When Howard heard that, she took matters into her own hands.
"I communicated with her mom and dad and with the coach and the athletic director to make sure that it was a possibility and they were all very happy and excited to have her."
Keslie joined the squad in December. Sandra Brault is the cheer squad's coach. She says even though she was excited to have Keslie join, she had to do a few things differently.
She never coached someone with a disability before.
"We did a lot of one on one," she said. "Everybody on the squad pretty much took turns -- I either put one on one or two on one with her so we put her slightly away so she could concentrate with a smaller crowd so she didn't feel overwhelmed."
In the few months that Keslie has been on the squad, she's learned a lot.
She does most of the cheers at the school's home basketball games, does cartwheels in between quarters, and even gets lifted by the other cheerleaders in a thigh stand.
"I feel lifted like an airplane," she said.
Even though Keslie gets to do some cheers and wave some pom-poms, there's so much more that cheerleading has given her.
"When she's on the court," her dad, Danny Miller, said, "she's like any one of the other girls and she's not being picked on or separated."
"This has really made her feel like anything is possible, that if she works hard at it she can do this, she can be a cheerleader," her teacher said.
"Just do it to it and just follow my dreams -- I hope come true," Keslie said.
Keslie isn't the only one who won. Her fellow cheerleaders say they're better for having her there.
"I love it," cheerleader Austin Plante said. If we aren't getting things right at practice she's right there to clap us on, cheer us on, get right back up there and try it again."
"I felt like it would bring us all together and make everybody happy," cheerleader Amber Meyer said, "and we all love her to pieces."
Keslie has one year of high school left. She says she plans on spending it cheering with her squad.