Philanthropy project leads to first Special Olympics New Mexico cheerleading squad in twenty years

November 30, 2011
By Erin Gallegos

Last Monday, a small group of Special Olympics Manzano athletes participated in a different kind of practice than the local program normally runs. Instead of working on relays, three-pointers, or slap shots these eager and excited athletes worked on routines, stunts and dance.

Earlier this year, Special Olympics Manzano participated in a philanthropy project that introduced the first Special Olympics cheerleading squad in New Mexico in twenty years. Currently, there are ten Special Olympics athletes on the squad: Alexis, Jordan, Tommy, Taylor, Kayla, Angel, Deborah, Deanna, Gia, and Jade. Jaimee Parea and Amie Sims, two UNM students, started the Special Olympics cheerleading squad philanthropy project and decided to continue with the squad after the project ended.

“Although cheerleading is not an official SONM sport, SONM supports our athletes taking advantage of any and all athletic opportunities presented to them,” said SONM Director of Sports and Competition Chris Page.

Jaimee and Amie are now the coaches for the squad. Mariana Flores and Bryanna Boughter, two Manzano students, also help to coach the squad. Led by Christine Castillo, the local program coordinator of Special Olympics Manzano, and Vanessa Whitaker, the spirit coordinator at Manzano High School, the squad has improved noticeably since their start in September.

The squad practices basic skills, arm movements, jumps, tumbling, chants, stunts, and dance routines. They practice three days per week and they vary between dance-oriented practices and cheer-oriented practices. The athletes know seven chants. The coaches see significant improvement in the athletes’ movement, memory, and confidence since they started the squad.

“It’s awesome,” said athlete Alexis Sena, “We dance and cheer and I love the friends I have made.

The squad participated in Manzano’s Fall Spirit Assembly this year, which is one of the biggest assemblies of the fall semester. Vanessa Whitaker hopes to secure a performance spot for the squad at the Metro Spirit Competition. The squad also may start cheering at the Special Olympics basketball games.

For more information about the squad and the Special Olympics Manzano programs, please contact Cris Castillo at (505)459-5367 or