SOUTHLAKE (CBS11) – If you’ve ever doubted the power of positivity, the cheerleaders at one gym in Southlake may change your mind.
They are the members of Spirit Xtreme Rejoice, a competition cheer squad for athletes with special needs.
Competition cheer is an intense, competitive sport in North Texas that takes year-round commitment.
“These are athletes. They can’t do this without being at the top of their class,” said Melissa Meriwether.
Melissa and Walter Meriwether are the owners and coaches of Spirit Xtreme. They grew up in the cheer world.
Melissa was a high school coach. Walter’s mother was a cheer coach as well.
The husband and wife founded Spirit Xtreme eleven years ago. Today, they work with more than 300 athletes from four years old through high school level.
The Rejoice team formed three years ago, thanks to one of the gym’s athletes: Grapevine High School senior Angela Williams.
“I just thought it would be so cool to combine the two things I love most, which are cheer and making people happy,” said Williams.
Williams went to the Special Olympics and passed out flyers. What began as a program with five kids has grown to sixteen.
“As a gym owner and coach, that’s what you live for. That’s the light you want to see in all of your athletes that you coach,” said Melissa Meriwether.
Susan Brett’s 17-year-old daughter, Jordan, is on the Rejoice squad for the first time.
“She has Down syndrome and she loves it. She loves the camaraderie of all the other students in it. Having something to be a part of every single week with all of her friends. The whole community kind of rallies around these kids. So many kids from high school volunteer here,” said Susan Brett.
“I like the dancing. It makes me feel happy,” said Jordan Brett.
The Rejoice team practices every week, working on gymnastics moves, team skills, and choreography. They travel to cheer meets in North Texas, alongside the other teams from the Spirit Xtreme gym.
Greg Shapley’s eleven-year-old son, Ben, is one of the original members of the Rejoice squad.
“To watch these kids do their thing is amazing. To see the inclusion that goes on with kids with all different kinds of needs, for them to come out with such energy and passion, it’s very magical and powerful,” said Greg Shapley.
The hard work leads up to competition day, where the Rejoice team dons the same sparkly black, red and blue cheer uniforms and bows (for the girls) that their peers wear.
At a January competition at the Fort Worth Convention Center, Rejoice is one of five teams in the “special athletes” category of competition.
Their names are called, and it is their turn in the spotlight.
“I cry every time. I’m so happy that they have this to do together,” said Jacolyn Lieck, whose daughter Grace is part of the team.
“It’s good to have a lot of friends!” said Grace, when asked what she likes about the team.
The music blasts through the speakers, and the Rejoice squad steps into the spotlight. They execute the routine they practice every week. And when it’s over, the entire arena is on their feet, going wild.
“Every one of the kids on the team walks out and just thrives. They loved it and perform like crazy,” said Melissa Meriwether. “Their confidence soars.”
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