Lora Harrington has dreamed of becoming a cheerleader her whole life. As a child, she would attend her uncles’ and sisters’ sporting events dressed up in a cheer outfit and cheered in support.

This year, Harrington, a freshman at West Salem High School, decided to try out for the school’s cheer team.

Harrington has Down Syndrome and has been excluded from social activities with her peers. Her mother, Cory Wingett, worried that cheerleading try outs would be another experience of exclusion for Harrington.

However, Harrington has had the opposite experience. Harrington’s coaches and teammates warmly welcomed her to the team and have supported her from the beginning.

“For once, it hasn’t been a struggle to be included,” Wingett said. “She is finally being accepted and loved for who she is.”

Aarika Guerrero, the school’s cheer coach, gave Harrington the cheers ahead of tryouts so that she could practice with her speech therapist.

“There were moments (during the tryout) when she was a little overwhelmed,” Guerrero said. “At one point, she hid near the bleachers. One of the cheerleaders, Abby, followed (me) over and we knelt down to check on her.”

The cheer team helps Harrington memorize the 40 cheers that they have to perform and also allows Harrington to choose the cheers at practice.

Harrington’s teammates have not only included her onto the team, but have befriended her as well. Two teammates asked Harrington to the homecoming dance.

Harrington said that making friends has been the best part of becoming a cheerleader. Wingett is moved by the kindness her daughter has received.

Jowelle M. is a college student interested in sociology, political science, and Spanish. Aside from academics, Jowelle enjoys blogging, reading, music, and spending time with family. She is happiest when she is working with others to improve the community.