September 28th, 2011
08:23 AM ET

Disabled girl gets spot on cheer team, hundreds of miles away

A Nebraska girl born with incomplete arms and no legs has finally achieved her dream of being a cheerleader - thanks to a high school coach about 800 miles away.

Julia Sullivan, 16, of Aurora, and her family traveled last week to Portland (Michigan) High School at the invitation of Portland cheerleading coach Linda Fox, who had Sullivan join her varsity squad for Friday’s homecoming football game.

It was the first time that Julia, who tried out for her high school’s squad in Nebraska three times without success, had cheered on a team in public, CNN affiliate WILX reported.

“I love to get the crowd going, and (I’m) just … excited (to) show the world what I can do,” she told WILX.

Fox said she’d read about Julia’s efforts to join her squad in Aurora.

“I was surfing the Internet and came on Julia’s story, and I was very inspired,” Fox told WILX. “I brought it to the team, and they challenged me to do something.”

 Julia and her parents, Mike and Carolyn Sullivan, flew to Michigan at their own expense, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Julia, wearing a modified Portland High School cheerleading uniform, cheered on the sidelines from her chair, and participated in the final stunt with the help of the team, to the applause of students in the stands, according to the Ionia (Michigan) Sentinel-Standard.

“Her cheering may not be quite the same as other people’s, but she can still do it. She can strap on the pom poms – her spirit is still there,” Mike Sullivan told WILX.

Julia intends to try out for her high school’s squad next year, WILX reported. The family and the school district last month agreed to work on making accommodations for her disability, but the district is making no guarantees that she’ll make the team, the World-Herald reported.

Julia had previously taken dance classes and participated in pep and marching bands, according to the World-Herald.

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Filed under: Michigan • Nebraska
soundoff (333 Responses)
  1. Godfrey James

    I'm not so sure this is a good idea.

    September 30, 2011 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. George

    This girl rocks! Way to go Michigan for stepping up. Shame on Nebraska.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Why shame on Nebraska? Because they didn't lower their standards for this girl? If an abled body girl tried out for the team, passing the cheering part but failing the jumps/kicks part, would SHE have been allowed on the team? Of course not! So why the exception here? What if she wanted to run the 200m hurdles or be a place kicker on the football team, would they be unjustified in barring her from doing those things?
      Its great that someone offered her a spot on a cheerleading team and this girl's perserverence is admirable, but don't wag your finger at someone just because they wouldn't make an exception to their rules.

      September 30, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. Andrew Nutra

    For all the other handicapped girls struggling just to get by, TAKE THAT!!

    September 30, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. From Aurora

    I am from Aurora, NE and all I can say is there is DEFINITELY more to this story than people know!! First of all, I am bothered because this is a family with lots of money. Why did the cheerleaders do fundraisers to provide them with a place to stay, transportation and meals? They could have EASILY paid for this themselves. The main problem here is that this family could not BUY Julia's way onto the team. It would be one thing if Julia was a nice girl to everyone in the school but from the kids I've talked to, who know her, she is rude and acts like everyone owes her. It is unfortunate that she is disabled, but that does not mean everyone should bend over backwards to do it for her. Is she going to fight everyone that won't allow her to do what she wants for the rest of her life? I am a perfectly able bodied person and I wasn't picked for the cheerleading squad either and yes, I was upset, but my parents didn't decide to sue the school! Every parent wants their kids to do what they dream of, but the truth is that it doesn't always happen. Because of this girl's parents having money, she is more priveledged than most other kids who aren't handicapped and I don't feel sorry for her at all. She gets to participate in many other things that she CAN do. As of next year, the school is going to revise their tryouts for her, and I know she will end up making it on. I just wonder what they will do when she goes to college...threaten to sue them too? Hmmmm

    September 30, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Diabetic

      But "Julia and her parents, Mike and Carolyn Sullivan, flew to Michigan at their own expense..." I could never imagine they would be able to "buy" her way onto the team.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Rae

      It sounds like you are sharing from second hand opinions. I would suggest that you get your information first hand, such as spending time with Julia and her family and getting to know them, before sharing these types of thoughts. Most of the time, when we take time to get to know a person, we find that our first impressions are wrong.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Linda Fox

      Hello, I am the coach who read her story and its my team who invited her to cheer with us. This had nothing to do with Aurora's decision to not let her cheer, not any of the school politics, but everything to do with all the things this young lady has accomplished dispite her physical handicap. She is so much more than just wanting to cheer. She has severe limitations due to missing limbs, why in the world would she put herself in a position to incur such negative thoughts against her? Because someone who loves her very much has taught her to reach for her dreams, to not put barriers in front of herself, and most of all, to not allow others to take her joy and zest for life.
      The family paid their own way in accepting our invitation. However the community of Portland, and surrounding cities, of the great State of Michigan, offered this family a place to stay, a vehicle to get around, and meals shared with new friends. I do not apologize for using this as an opportunity to educate my team on the miracle of friendship, acceptance and love for one another. This young lady demonstrated that the human spirit is capable of moving mountains.
      As far as your comments on money? Money will not help Julia grow legs or arms, money will not protect her from all the negative people in the world, but perhaps last weekend's display of sincere friendship will help this family heal and move forward.
      Including her on our team last week did not change the world, it didn't improve the economy, it also didn't stop crime or terrorist activities. I don't think it probably had much of an impact on your life eitiher. What it did do, was for one moment in time, give this young lady a chance to realize a dream. Its important to note that during our time together Julia Sullivan never once said anything negative about her school, city or State. She is an inspiration!

      September 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mule46

      She shouldn't worry. She will make it next year. They will give it to her in hopes the big fuss goes away. Having grown up in a small town and lived and taught in two others, I can tell you there is always a so-called prominent family or families in small towns. These families expect to get what they want and usually do. Sounds like the case here. It is a given that their child will make whatever team they tryout for. On another blog a resident of this town stated that the people of this did not cross anyone with Julie's last name. People like this can keep you from getting a job, or cause you to lose a job. Or, make life in general very miserable for you.

      October 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Diabetic

    Will someone PLEASE take the wrapper off of this sugar coated society we have become?

    September 30, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  6. IamnotGod

    Are you kidding me? No disrespect, but we are all NOT equal unfortunately. Having a girl in a wheelchair doing "cheers" proves what? That she can get dressed in a cheerleader outfit and cheer along with the rest of the cheerleaders....all from the comforts of her wheelchair. Big Deal.
    We have become a sissy, no balls, no guts, knowing when to say NO (politely) society. You can thank all the radical minority groups like the Gay Alliance, The Disabled People International (DPI), etc....
    I know there are a lot of bloody hearts out here and you all sit back in the rafters at a basketball game as you watch someone turn this girl's wheelchair in a 360 degree turns as she is cheer-leading and about to barf from all the spinning. Oh, she doesn't even spin around? Wake up people. Yes its unfortunate that this young lady is confined to a wheelchair, but what does it accomplish? Was her self-esteem that deep in the abyss that we needed to "waive" the physical requirements for the position just for her.

    Next thing you know is will have students asking teachers to show them how to put on a condom in class on a live person. You people that made this all happen need to design your own little world. You retarded son who plays the last minute in a game, or your son who was born without legs who demands to his school that he has "the same right as other students" to play football. And now because this kid's parents threatening to sue the school, the school gives in and lets this biy play "lineman" with no legs. Are you ***king kidding me?

    September 30, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      First of you really believe that even though she is finally doing something she has wanted to do that she feels in any way that she is an " equal" in a society filled with like minded people such as YOU.
      She is an individual with individual thoughts, dreams, and abilities. Why can't she do what she is able to do? If she is able to wave pom poms around and cheer for a team...why not let her? After all, the purpose of a cheerleader is to boost spirit and moral of the team members AND the fans. Wouldn't you agree that you would build a better " team" atmosphere with the inclusion of people who have that mentality than barring those people?
      Do you suppose people at the pep rally walked away thinking " who does she think she is...disabled people shouldn't be included in activities"...OR " hey..that was kinda cool and inspiring". It's all in the way we choose to think about things, and that's reality...not your " what things should look like " reality.

      October 1, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Jp

      What if you were her? Wouldn't you want to cheer too?

      October 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tessa-mclair

      your right i mean its totaly roung to do that were all turning into a bunch of pansy's. Maybe her perents will get a brain and tell her that its not possible.

      October 3, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • unixchick01

      @IamnotGod – Why do you really care? What's the big deal about this that you have get so fired up? With the state of the economy and misery around the world, a little bit of joy can help us all. Hasn't anyone ever given you a break?

      October 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leo Markaj

      You're not got but you're a real low life. I hope you lose your legs one day.

      October 6, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Seems like students might actually cheer for her. If so, she would be an effective cheerleader. The point of cheerleading, after all, is to engage the crowd.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christopher Klepper

      To the guy at the begining who has his vision of what the world is like; I was watching a video about guys like you the other day.... a group of people chained to cave wall watching shadows being projected by a great fire behind them... this was the only reality they knew of...

      My advice, keep searching for new points of view : )

      October 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Laura

    First of all her own lousy high school couldn't give this darling teenage girl a spot on her own cheerleading squad? It took a high school 800 miles from her to do that? Secondly, I am utterly disgusted by some of the posts on this story, regarding *sugar-coated PCisms*, sissy no balls-having society, because some people care on a more evolved self-less level to recognize the harsh reality of this young ladies life, precisely because of people like you, and have enough humanity to give her a shot at some level of normalcy, if for only a while. Which is all any adolescent wants , to fit in. We've got a huge deficiency in terms of emotional intelligence in this culture, and until this improves we are going to continue to have a culture of "well it doesn't affect me why should I care bullies." KUDO's to Portland cheerleading coach Linda Fox. She *get's it*.

    October 1, 2011 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
    • See the whole story

      Her high school did offer her a position on the wrestling cheer squad but that wasn't good enough for them. It was reported in the Aurora News Register I don't know if there is an online link to that article.

      October 4, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Glenn C.

    HEY CNN, FIX THE DAMN HEADLINE. SHE IS A GIRL WITH A DISABILITY. She is not a disabled girl... People first language!

    October 1, 2011 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. Glenn C.

    HEY CNN: She is not a "disabled girl" she is a girl with a disability.... "PEOPLE FIRST" LANGUAGE!

    October 1, 2011 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Danielle B

    It deeply disappoints me that people have become so heartless towards people with disabilities. I am not a person with special needs, but I do know people who need different aspects of help. Its sad that people have looked over young people who want to be "normal." They deserve as much respect and as many chances as the rest of society. People like IAMNOTGOD and SO IM GOING TO BE "THAT PERSON" show us that ignorance is still alive and well. What gives "normal" people the right to tell people who have special needs that they can or cannot do something? It is people like you two that show it is ok to discriminate. I'm quite sure neither of you are perfect and based off of the ignorant and uncivilized nature of your posts, you both are obviously insecure in your own lives and feel the need to punish others. The point of this article was to show that it is ridiculous that a girl with disabilities has to travel 800 miles away from her own high school to make her dream of cheering for a team possible. It is the point that we have turned a blind eye as society and let things like this happen for fear of what others might think. It is a disgrace that her own high school would abandon her in such a way. I think there is a lesson here especially for the two of these single-minded people that compassion comes in many different shapes and sizes and that it takes one person's kindness to help change that.

    October 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mimi

    This reminds me of my high school. The faculty were forced by this kid's parents, to make him a sort of mascot at basketball games. Most people watched him more than the game. We would place bets on when he would pee his pants, get his drool wiped off the floor or need rescuing before he choked on his styrofoam cup. This was his idea of cheering "Arrrhhhoorrrroooooooggggaaaaa! snort, snort, snort."

    -It was a HOOT!! Probably a lot like watching this girl 'cheer'.

    October 2, 2011 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Tessa-mclair

      all i can say is people feelm bad and i can under stand that but letting them cheer or even be a mascot will bring there hopes up only so they can be distriod easier.

      October 3, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  12. Glimmertwin

    Her high school sounds like they're a bunch of snobs who are more concerned with appearance than compassion. I loved the commenter who responded that it's a dangerous sport and that there are life-threatening injuries. S/he has no reading comprehension what-so-ever. Derrick was pointing out that if someone is an inept cheerleader, so what? Does the outcome of the game depend on that? What difference does it make if she's great or if she's terrible? Aurora, NE sounds like a terrible place to live – how depressing that there are people like Iamnotgod in the world.

    October 2, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  13. nilka

    i am inspired to follow my dreams with my mental disability.... thanks julia lova ya lots 😉

    October 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Respectanimalsnothumans

    Why are people in here so hateful about this. This girl has a hard life being like that and there is nothing wrong to make her happy for at least a day.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
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    November 17, 2011 at 4:55 am | Report abuse |
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