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. David Ticktin

    You Go Girl !

    September 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff

    She's probably the cutest girl on the team too!!

    September 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. fernace

    We could all learn a thing or 2 from this young lady, who doesn't let obstacles get in her way! Seems her school is lucky to have her & doesn't know it! I know I'll be thinking of this story when something seems to hard to do! Go Julia!!

    September 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • lu, south Fla

      Don't insult the school- this was likely an insurance problem – CNN never gives the whole story.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarkinFL

      Insurance problems can be dealt with if there is a will to do it.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aeromechainc

      lu. stop the BS. If they allow her in school they allow her to participate in sports. Case closed!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. StoogeFan

    What a Great Story, and I wish her all the luck in the world. I know she will make her high school team next year.

    September 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. so, i'm gonna be "that person"...

    sorry, but this just doesn't give me the warm fuzzies. cheerleading (however lame it may be) is an athletic activity. this girl, obviously, is unable to perform most, if not all, of the athletic abilities required of a cheerleader. i'm sure there were other girls, not disabled, but just not up to par to make the team; why is it okay to reject them but accept this girl? personally, i wouldn't want to be given a spot on a team out of pity.

    September 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Derrick

      Ultimately cheerleading is an entertainment activity and it is not an essential service, so making leeway for people with disabilities is the right thing to do. It's not like cheerleading saves lives, so having a few disabled members that may not meet all the athletic qualifications won't be a life threatening thing. Also I don't think she was given a spot out of pity, but invited to join in on a team whose spots have already been filled, as the article states. I am personally disappointed her own high school never thought of this.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • thecatdragon

      Actually there is quite a bit of conflicting info about this even locally. I live in Aurora and was told by several people that they offered to allow her to just participate on the sidelines and cheer but they didn't want to do that. According to articles I have read locally that interviewed her she indicated that she wanted a chance to get on the team by her own abilities just taking into account what she couldn't do to give her a fair chance. Again there is a lot of conflicting information here and it is a sore subject because of it.

      September 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Coach Joan

      Cheerleading is very much a sport, and should be treated as one on a high school level. There are many many rec league squads that would welcome her with open arms.

      October 1, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Mitch

      You're an ass.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • so, i'm gonna be "that person"...

      i see your point, but i still disagree. in my opinion, this sets her up for unrealistic expectations in life. NOT to say that she should not pursue her dreams, but that she should be realistic about it. as you pointed out, cheerleading is definitely not an essential service. but she would clearly be unable to perform a truly essential service, such as becoming a police officer or firefighter. giving her the expectation that she can do ANYTHING is just unrealistic. she can't. it sucks, but it is what it is.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      Clearly she will draw the conclusion that she is now able to be a fire fighrer, police woman, Navy SEAL, brain sugeon, astronaut, etc. from her experience of being included on a cheer squad. OHHH YESSS...she is definately being set up for a let down. I bet she doesn't even know she doesn't have arms or legs. Heck..she probably did back flips out of the Gym after she forgot about her disability.
      Seriously...take a breath and just think about the intention of your comment. My intention is to voice frustration over your short mindedness. My " out-tention" is to use sarcasm to prove my point.

      October 1, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • @mitch


      September 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Silversprite

      I don't see anywhere that people are giving her the idea that she can do anything, or that she believes that herself. In fact, her goals seem strictly limited to a desire to "raise spirits and inspire people" – hardly an unreasonable expectation.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • lu

      @Derrick You know NOTHING about cheer leading. There are more life threatening injuries in CHEERLEADING than any other women's sport. it's extremely dangerous, and it is definitely a SPORT. You are clearly just trying to stir the pot, by calling it 'entertainment'.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • NCMom

      Unrealistic expectations? Are you kidding? The girl is disabled with no legs and incomplete arms. I think she has had a large dose of reality and being allowed to cheer is certainly not going to warp that.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Well put, Mitch.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • mjj

      My personal opinion is that "cheerleading' is most often a vulgar display except with the high level gymnastic competions. Those are athletic displays. Not my cup of tea – but there you are.

      This girl can cheer just as well as any other person in the stands and this team of cheerleaders gave her that opportunity. So you don't get the warm fuzzies from it? My opinion is that it was a very generous offer from the school and their coaches.

      Imagine how much better life would be if we would all stop acting like Simon Cowell. I personally don'y get my jollies from pointing out people's weaknesses.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • C to the J

      I agree.

      Imagine how the girls that didn't make the team feel now. Beaten out by a quadriplegic...must be great for the self-esteem.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • BethTX

      Agreed. What's next, a paraplegic on the track team?

      September 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • mitchyj

      Are you for real? That thing that beats under your chest. Better check if you have one, idiot.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • BethTX

      Life isn't all about feelings, warm fuzzies, and political correctness. The fact of the matter is that this girl is unable to perform as a normal cheerleader. She is no more qualified than a crippled boy who wants to play football.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evilqueen620

      You all have seemed to forget one thing. Cheerleading isn't only about who can kick the highest or who can scream the loudest, it's about SPIRIT. If this girl has the Spirit of her school then she definitely should be allotted the accommodations to become a cheerleader. After all, I don't recall the ADA laws saying "except cheerleading."

      September 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fizzay

      It's not pity that got her on a cheerleading team. It was inspiration. There are very few things more inspiring than a disabled girl being able to overcome her disability in order to make a dream come true.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • BethTX

      Cheerleading is not about school spirit.. It's about who looks the best out there and who has athletic ability (yes, I believe it's a sport). If this girl is allotted a spot, there is no justification for not opening it up to fat girls, retarded girls, skinny girls with no breasts, and all other unpopular students. When those people start show up on cheerleading squads, let me know.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • so, i'm gonna be "that person"...

      @evil queen: welcome to 2011. cheerleading is not quite the same as it was back in your day.
      also, if the whole thing was simply about wanting to show her school spirit, she could have easily done that as a spectator.

      @fizzay: this poor girl has hardly "overcome her disability." she has used it to get something that was not, and should not be, within her reach. that's a harsh reality, but it is reality just the same. she is physically not capable of being a cheerleader. period.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry Azinballs

      I gotta agree 100%. Up next: primordial dwarf gets coveted quarterback dream fulfilled.
      This world is not full of warm fuzzies. Good luck to this girl. I wish her the best.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      This is about SPIRIT!!! Nothing more, nothing less. And guess what......? Julia has it!!!

      September 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jodie

      I left this same comment for someone else...but you need to see it too. Back when I was in school, every single kid who wanted to could be on the Pom Squad (you got pompoms and mostly sat in the bleachers and cheered...but at every game, members would take turns being on the field with the more athletic cheerleaders and, while the cheerleaders did their thing, would stand and encourage the crowd to join in with the cheers). Nothing wrong with that, and it gives all the kids a chance to cheer, even if they can't do the stunts.

      Really, "so, I'm gonna be "that person"" are just a killjoy. There's almost always a "win win" solution. Very little of life has to be "win/lose". Unfortunately, you choose to be a loser.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter (CA)

      for everyone but mostly @Beth

      I cannot understand the hate that such a little event engenders amongst you. She is not going to remain part of the squad but sometimes you do something nice for someone just because. It is nice to see that there exist some people in the world who are willing to do that.

      Beth, I found this story much too late to respond to you and you probably won't see this, but it had to be said. Your level of anger with this seems even more over the top than the others but it makes sense as I read this line:

      "If this girl is allotted a spot, there is no justification for not opening it up to fat girls, retarded girls, skinny girls with no breasts, and all other unpopular students."

      That's what it's all about, right? You don't like anyone other than your fellow cheerleaders eating at your lunch table. I'm hoping that you are still in high school and will eventually figure it out because if you are much older than that, it seems someone along the way failed you miserably. I can only hope you do not have children who you can warp with your elitist ways.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Parent

      This girl was offered that same honorary cheerleading position from her home school but refused it because her mother said that when she was in school she was a cheer leader and Julia's older sister was a cheerleader so Julia will be a cheerleader and even had the nerve to start legal action against the school (which was later dropped). Now she is making the news by taking advantage of this Michigan school and using their offer (again the same offer she refused from her home school) to gain some publicity, what's next? Ellen? or some other misguided talk show?

      September 29, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lu, south Fla

    This was probably a legal issue and nothing more. To be on athletic team, you must pass physical exam, or the school will lose their insurance policy. As you know CNN NEVER gives the whole story – so learn more about it, before you insult Nebraska

    September 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Derrick

      According to the article above, this disabled girl wasn't given an open spot on another school's cheerleading team...she was invited to join in as an extra. So she is not part of that cheerleading team either. She's just cheering alongside them. Her own high school could do the same.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • lu

      @derrick: It's not an issue of "open spots on the team". It's an INSURANCE issue. A wheelchair on the field is an obstacle which athletes could stumble over. Julia cannot get out of way quickly if the ball carrier goes over the line. If the ball carrier is running 10MPH, that will be a rough collision. She cannot get out of way quickly when ball is going 50, 75 mph

      September 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarkinFL

      People can ALWAYS find excuses not to accommodate if they want to. They can also find ways to accommodate if the WANT to.
      Glad to know that they've invented benches that jump out of the way of players now.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aeromechainc

      You know lu, you're about as swift as they come. A wheelchair on the field? First off, it is called a basketball COURT and they are on the sidelines during play. It is no more dangeroust than the bench the playes are sitting on.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • laurensgameoflife

      What kind of a football travels at 75mph?

      September 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      @Lu, I don't know where you get that this is an insurance issue (you've repeated this a couple of times). It was not an insurance issue. The school scored the girl down for her disabilities. The parents argued that there should have been an accommodation made. The school district refused to take any action. No insurance issue involved.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lu, south Fla

    This is typical of the Midwest obsession with high school athletics. Where did Julia – or any high school girl – get the idea that she simply MUST be a cheerleader? There are thousands upon thousands of young women in the Midwest who are obsessed with cheering, but who 'didn't make the team They carry that around with them for life. Midwest schools encourage this, and it stinks. Ladies, there are all kinds of good organizations that can use your talents. Go to the local hospital, food bank, or child care center and donate your time and talents. Or Call Girl Scouts of America, and find out where your local troop is. They could use your help.

    September 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aeromechainc

      Typical response from someone from the deep south.

      In case you missed it, she has some severe physical limitations and all she wanted was to cheer her team on.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • C to the J

      All I want is for someone to feel sorry for me and give me $5 million, but that's just not the way the real world works now is it?

      September 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • petercha

      "Typical response from someone from the deep south." You paint with a very broad brush, Aero.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry Azinballs

      I too, would like $100 million dollars and a pet unicorn. Somebody please answer my prayers... ANYONE?

      September 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Barbara

    As a former cheerleader, I know that you've got to have SPIRIT first and foremost. This young lady has that already!

    September 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • BethTX

      Spirit first and foremost? Really? So cheerleading squads are filled with unattractive fat girls who have the most school spirit?

      September 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • sue

      🙂 well said!!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunflower

      thank you. I wish more "Cheer"leaders felt that way.....

      September 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • C to the J

      Weird, I always thought that was called the Pep Squad.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry Azinballs

      HAHAHAH BethTx well put.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jon

    This is a touching story, and the smile on the little girl's face is worth millions.

    To all those who have a problem with CNN's reporting on this article, don't fret. As we speak they're putting together a new article on Justin Bieber's own private gumball machine. We know you can't wait for it.

    September 28, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. kgriggs0207

    Please assume that negative comments on this story are from trolls who have nothing better to do (or choose to do) than try to upset you. Says even more about this girl and what's is important in her life (e.g. just the opposite).

    September 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. kk987

    I never comment on stuff, but what an awesome story. It made me feel super sad, but I am so happy for that girl. Good for her, and good for the team, letting her participate. Very nice story

    September 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Aeromechainc

    Her team in Nebraska couldn't have let her wear the uniform for at least one game to make her world a better place?

    The kid has obviuosly not been as fortunate as others, it seems like that would have been such a small thing to do.

    Way to go Portland Michigan!

    September 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Parent

      She was offered this same Honorary Cheerleader position at her home school but refused it (Guess there wasn't enough publicity with the home offer?)

      September 29, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nathan Davis

    Like this is really an "issue" that should be in the news. The REAL issue is that WE CANNOT AFFORD USELESS things like football and cheer-leading which will NEVER improve our students abilities to survive in this HELLSTORM economy! BOO!

    September 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cindy lee

    Way to go Portland Michigan. Its not about how you look, but your school spirit that should get you on the cheer team. She's a beautiful girl, by the way. The American's with Disabilities Act has gone a long way to ensure that special needs people get the opportunities that others get, but there are still many people in the world that can't see the forest for the trees.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Chris

    What are they going to use her for when they spell things? The period at the end of the sentence?

    September 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry Azinballs


      September 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      Or the capital at the beginning maybe?

      October 1, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
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