It was a cheer they all did together -- and, in a way, a type of initiation for Centereach High School's newest cheerleading squad.
Wearing white T-shirts over their uniforms, Centereach's middle school, junior varsity and varsity high school teams formed a large circle of smiles and pom-poms on the sideline of the homecoming game on Sept. 19.
"Let's sparkle!" they chanted, introducing the high school's Sparkle Team -- a 19-person squad dedicated to encouraging special needs students to grab some pom-poms and perform alongside their high school peers.
"We want our special-needs students to feel as if they're truly part of the high school experience, and have the ability to make friends outside of their classes," said Corinne Seagriff, Dawnwood Middle School cheer coach. "It's not a just squad for just students with disabilities -- it's a squad for anyone who wants to join."
"At every home game, we will cheer together," she added.
The team works in partnership with The Sparkle Effect, an organization dedicated to bringing cheerleading initiatives for special-needs students to schools across the nation. After learning of the program, Seagriff, who also works with special education students, was driven to bring the program to Centereach.
"I've always wanted to do something like this," Seagriff said. "So I brought the idea to the district's athletic director, who was immediately onboard."
"We were lucky to have a blend of special education interests and cheerleading here to help spearhead this," said Joseph Mercado, director of Athletics for the Middle Country School District.
According to Seagriff, the team is entirely student-run, and is made up of special-needs students, varsity and junior varsity cheerleaders and is open to anyone who wants to sign up. The team is co-captained by Centereach junior Amanda Budke and freshman Kyle Costa, who both cheer for the school's varsity team.
"It's very easy to notice who is a cheerleader at school . . . we're the ones wearing bows and uniforms in school all the time, it's definitely a group thing" Budke said. "Now, we see people in the hallways we don't usually get to see and can share a smile -- an understanding -- with them on the way to class. It's really nice to have that."
West Islip is the only other school on Long Island that is recognized by The Sparkle Effect, according to the organization's website.
"I think this should be a program every school should have," Costa said. "It's given me so much happiness."