When a cheerleader with Down Syndrome was bullied, players walked off the court
By Deneen Smith
The peer pressure of middle school isn’t always the easiest atmosphere in which to stand up for what’s right. But last year, when some members of the crowd at a Lincoln Middle School basketball game in Kenosha, WI began making fun of Desiree Andrews, a cheerleader who has Down syndrome, boys from the team decided to intervene.
During a time out, a member of the team went into the crowd to have a talk. “One of the kids stepped up and said, ‘Don’t mess with her,’” said Brandon Morris, who was the boys’ seventh-grade coach last year. “Then all of the guys got together to show her support.” Eighth-grader Miles Rodriguez, 14, remembers the game when kids in the stands were giving Desiree a hard time.
“We were mad; we didn’t like that. We asked our sports director to talk to the people and tell them not to make fun of her,” he said.
In a tradition that started last year, the introduction of the starting lineup for Lincoln’s boys’ basketball team always includes Desiree, said coach David Tolefree. After the introductions, and just before the start of play, the boys run over to Desiree for high-fives and fist bumps. The school renamed Lincoln’s gym “D’s House” in her honor, and students wear Tshirts celebrating her inclusion with the team.
“They have really stepped up, almost like they are big brothers to her,” David said. “It’s good to see.”
In March, for their last home game of the season the team held a ‘D’s House’ celebration. The basketball team and cheerleaders gathered at the center of the gym for a group huddle. “Whose house? D’s house!” the boys chanted. Eighth-grader Ben Woods, 14, a student at Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum who plays on the Lincoln basketball team, said he and his teammates are glad to support Desiree and to promote kindness at the school. “It’s really a good message,” Ben said. He said he is also happy to see the reaction of the crowd to the team’s efforts.
“I think it’s great because some people thought Lincoln was a bad school, that it had a bad reputation, and I think this helps people think differently about that.” Desiree said she loves cheerleading because she likes to dance. About the boys’ support, she said, “It’s amazing.” Her dad agrees. “It’s been a godsend to us,” he said. “Those boys, I tried to talk to them in person, but I couldn’t keep the tears back.”
Laura Stone, a Lincoln teacher and the cheer coach, said she thinks Desiree’s participation on the team, and at school, has helped her students grow and become more compassionate. “She has been very special to us,” Laura said.
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