Pioneer Sparkles Shining Bright
At last Saturday’s University of Wisconsin-Platteville men’s basketball game versus UW-Superior there were some new members on the cheer & stunt team, the Pioneer Sparkles. The Pioneer Sparkles team is a group of six children from ages 11-21 with special needs and disabilities from the tri-state area and is fully integrated with the Pioneer cheer & stunt team.
The idea of starting the Pioneer Sparkles came from freshman Shelby Swanson. Swanson was a member of the nation’s first high-school based inclusive cheerleading squad at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa and has brought The Sparkle Effect to Platteville. She received special recognition from the National Residence Hall Honorary for her commitment to the program. The Pioneer Sparkles is the first university to join The Sparkle Effect, which has over 80 fully inclusive high school and middle school teams throughout the country.
Swanson brought the idea of joining The Sparkle Effect to head cheer & stunt coach Patti Mitch in November, and Mitch then took the idea to Athletic Director, Mark Molesworth, to get his approval to create the fully inclusive cheer squad. With the okay from Molesworth, the UW-Platteville cheer & stunt team started the Pioneer Sparkles in the beginning of December, and received a $1,000 grant from The Sparkle Effect for uniforms for the new members to the squad.
“We are all one big team,” said Mitch. “Each of them have such courage and are willing to try anything. They are amazing to work with and bring a smile to everyone’s face because they always have a smile on theirs. It has been a gift to work with the program.”
Each Sparkle has a mentor from the UW-Platteville cheer & stunt team that cheers beside them during the game and helps them during their weekly practice. The Pioneer Sparkles is open to individuals with special needs and disabilities from ages 9-23. They look to be adding two new members this month. As the program is funded by donations, the only cost to the Sparkle Athletes is that of getting to practices and games.
The Pioneer Sparkles will be cheering on the Pioneers on Jan. 26 when the men’s basketball team takes on UW-River Falls at 3 p.m.