Athlete brings joy, spirit to middle school cheerleading squad
March 14, 2014
Steamboat Springs — It was just a few minutes before Christa Metzler and her teammates on the Steamboat Springs Middle School cheerleading squad stepped into a crowded gym to perform in front of their classmates Friday afternoon.
While putting the finishing touches on Christa's hair, her mom, Tracy, quietly asked her daughter if she was nervous. Christa, who has Down syndrome, looked at her mom and responded, "I'm not nervous, but my legs are."
But by the time Christa took her spot with the cheer squad in the middle of the gym — in front of all those people — her legs seemed fine. Cheers from her classmates greeted the eighth-grader as the squad showcased the routine they will use for the CheerSports Denver Grand Championships, which will be held Sunday at the First Bank Center in Broomfield.
The middle school group was formed last fall and has been working once a week for this competition all year. Christa has been there every step of the way.
"This has been great for her," Tracy said about her daughter's involvement. "This is a beautiful example of inclusion."
Tracy explained that joining the cheerleading team was Christa's idea. Tracy didn't learn about it until after Christa had taken part in a lunchtime meeting at the middle school and brought home some paperwork for her mom to fill out.
Tracy said she was thrilled that Christa had shown the initiative, which is not easy for any middle school student, but she also was concerned that Christa couldn't keep up with the other girls on the team. She picked up the phone and called coach Summer McParland, who put Tracy’s mind at ease.
Summer didn't see a problem with Christa being on the team and accepted her with open arms. So did the other middle school cheerleaders who joined the team, Tracy said. The girls consider Christa a teammate and are quick to help her with parts of the routine, or show her moves when the coaches are busy. They have welcomed her to the team.
"She (McParland) has really embraced Christa, and so have the other girls on the team," Tracy said. "It's amazing how good they have been."
Christa's position isn't just for show, either. To Summer, Christa is just another member of the team, and she holds her to the same expectations as the other girls on the squad. Summer will not let Christa slide out of any part of a routine or sit on the sideline. She is expected to be on the floor at practice and to be part of the routine when the girls compete.
The coach understands that there are some things that Christa just can't do because of her condition, but Summer has found other ways for Christa to contribute. High school assistant Citlalli Gomez spends most of her time at practice working with Christa.
"I like being her main coach," Gomez said. "There are not many special needs children that can do as much as she can. We keep her in as much as we can. We don't want to overwhelm her, but we want her to be a part of what we are doing. I honestly think she is amazing."
Christa is placed in the middle of the cheer lines and is expected to perform just like her teammates. She may not be able to do a tumbling run, but she is part of a couple of stunts in the current routine.
"The atmosphere with the children and the way they have just engage with her — It's really joy to watch," McParland said. "I think it brought our team together. I think this is a better team with her on it."
The girls on the team not only support Christa, but are very happy to call her a teammate.
"It's fun having her on the team," captain Lilly Speiss said. "She is full of spirit and character, and she's been a great addition to our team."
Fellow captain Gwenyth McParland said the team enjoys having Christa on the team because she is fun, and that Christa also has a comic side that helps the team members come together.
"She's always saying funny things or doing something that will get us all laughing," Gwenyth said. "But she is also really good at doing what she is supposed to do during our routines. She knows her spots and always knows what to do."
Christa's teammate Michelle Brewer said the team has high expectations this week in Broomfield and she thinks Christa will be a big part of how the team will fare.
"I expect great things out of us. The whole team has been working hard to get everybody ready for the competition," Michelle said. "I think we are prepared for it, and I think we are going to do well."
It will be an adventure for the team, which leaves Saturday to spend the night in the Denver area. It's a chance for the classmates to hang out together outside of school, and a chance to compete in the sport they love.
Tracy said it will be Christa's second time to travel to an over-nighter without her parents. The family plans to be in Denver on Sunday to watch the team compete.
"Christa knows that she has a job to do, and that is important to her," Tracy said. "This experience has helped her to become more independent and has given her a chance to be a part of something, to be a part of a team. That's been really good."