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. mlkiter

    To all those who made the "mean" and uncalled statements......grow up and find something else to do with your negativity. I am proud to be from Portland, MI which was the town that hosted this lovely young lady and her family. I should think that people would feel good to read a story that is happy when usually we only here about the negatives, it is nice to enjoy a story that makes someone feel good. I am very proud of my town and my school. What if this was a make a wish dream for this young lady and she wanted to cheer a game with the Laker girls.....would the responses be any different? My daughter is a JR. Raider cheerleader and she was so happy to be a part of this. Maybe it taught some kids and even some of us parents a lesson as well.You can take arms, you can take legs but you can never take someones spirit!! GO RAIDERS!

    September 29, 2011 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
  2. Loriel

    I have to post on this. I understand some of the concerns about the trend towards making alowences for everyone because it simply is not realistic. However; honestly, if allowing this girl to have a membership on this squad, even if it just entails suiting up and cheering along, gives her joy in a life filled with enough challenges already; isn't it worth it? There are so many cold hearted people on this forum that I have to wonder if any of you have children. Obviously she will not be able to stunt and compete, but there is nothing wrong with her being allowed to be "part" of the squad. As I said early; every now and then you do something because it is the right thing to do, the kind thing to do. What has happened to the milk of human kindness? Seriously? How many of you harping about political correctness and how awful it is, etc., consider yourselves Christians? I just do not get it. Why is this even a discussion? The coach who allowed her to cheer with her squad has not only taught her cheerleaders an extremely important lesson about life, she has also given to herself and the entire school. She has given a lesson in kindness. There is too little of that to go around and besides; she looks like a beautiful girl who has the confidence to not give up even though she has been rejected many times. Any cheerleading squad would be very lucky to have her. The rest of you downers here need to grow up mentally and restart your hearts.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • noteabags

      I agree completely. I also agree that most people are just evil.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Linda Fox

      Hey, on this day which happens to be my gave me the greatest gift!!! your support and understanding that this was simply giving a kid a chance to realize a dream. There was nothing political or self serving about this at all.
      Thank you!!

      September 29, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • A Very Prplgrl

      Ms. Linda Fox, you are an inspiration and I just want to say Thank You, for givin that girl a chance... She seems like an amazing person who doesn't let life get her down considering the cards she was dealt... You know what a difference that will make for her... Great job... 🙂

      A Very Prplgrl 🙂

      September 29, 2011 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Olga Sanchez

      Amen, praise the Lord.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • MichMade

      Loriel, I am curious as to why you felt it necessary to include the words "consider yourselves Christian?" in your comment. Since when did Christianity corner the market on compassion? I'm a practicing Hindu, but I also have compassion for the disabled, as do my Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Wiccan, Shamanic, Buddhist, Atheist and agnostic friends.

      You ask us to show a little compassion for this girl. I ask that you not be so exclusive as to think that only Christians are capable of having compassion for less fortunate individuals.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • SoSubResident

      "As I said early; every now and then you do something because it is the right thing to do, the kind thing to do." PERFECTLY phrased, Loriel–thank you.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • midwest

      Well-said, Loriel.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • David in Corpus

      All that matters to me is that she is hot. Only pretty girls should be cheerleaders, end of story.
      I saw her picture, very pretty face, trim fit body (minus legs of course).
      Very worthy of being a cheerleader. Shallow men are easy to please as long as you are hot.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • BillV

      Show a little compassion here. It's silly how a simple statement can get you all bent out of shape.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      it's worth it for the girl, but i can totally see some ACLU action or disability act twenty years down the road where there will be some quota for disabled people in cheer-leading squads.

      we all have disappointments in life. why feel sorry for the disabled, the special needs guys, mentally handicapped, etc.? i think if this girl were able to get prostheses and actually perform the normal routine that cheer-leaders do, then she should be allowed to join the team. otherwise, it's no different from a short, skinny kid who can't join the football team or the off-key kid who can't join the glee club.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheva

      Very well put Loriel, thank you – and to MichMade, I appreciate and agree with your desire for inclusiveness; I don't think Loriel's intention was to exclude – I think she was commenting from her personal perspective – but based on what she is saying about this girl's right/need to be included, I think she would agree that anyone has the capacity for understanding, compassion, and kindness and should exercise it. Thanks, again, to you both.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      You could not be more right on!

      September 29, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Tony1954

      Beautifully written and so true!

      September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • melvinslizard

      This is heart-warming. What a wonderful gesture on the coach's part. boom-shock-a-lock-a (my cheer for you! 🙂

      September 29, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Loriel, so you would let this girl on the squad because you pity her? You think that because she is disabled, not because she earned it, that she should be on the team? Because she can't make the team on her own, that someone needs to 'do the right thing' and be nice enough to LET her on the team? Interesting...

      September 30, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Susan

    I see a win-win here. Check out The Sparkle Effect, a student-led non-profit that generates and then tangibly supports school-based inclusive cheerleading squads. They've already generated over 40 squads nationwide that include students with disabilities. Their motto: When everyone cheers, everyone wins! Check it out at :

    September 29, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. DaveNYUSA

    Very nice.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  5. ed

    Nice, another politically correct ending. I'm sure the school weighed the possibilities of a law suit and just let the PC crowd have it. I'm all for disabled people doing things. I know a great programer in a wheel chair. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are great musicans. But be REAL about it. I don't care how much he wants to a blind man can not drive a truck. A person with no arms can not be a surgeon. And a girl with no legs? How is she going to do the moves and formations a cheer squad does? She may be on the squad but she'll never be part of the "team". As Clinton Eastwood said "A man's got to know his limitations." Her talents could be put to better use. Instead of sitting on the sideline she could be planning and hosting pep rallies or school parties/dances. Instead of be the cheerleader in the wheel chair that really can't participate, she could be the school activies planner that everyone knows will put together great fun. It's sad when the disabled listen to the PC people about how they can do anything they want. No they can't. If they could they wouldn't be disabled. Use the talents you do have and you'll be much happier.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Duwayne Anderson

      Jeepers. A girl with no legs can't cheer? Seriously?

      Looks like you let the cat out of the bag. Pedophiles might think cheerleaders need legs and short skirts, but the rest of us know that cheering is about team spirit - and all you need for *that* is a heart.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Tex71

      Duwayne, you stated that so perfectly. Ed, you are part of the problem. Go home and pray the Feds don't catch up with you and your little ring of "enthusiasts".

      September 29, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Cato

      Ed, what's the harm in letting this girl cheer? Team spirit is not limited to handsprings and pyramids. As a Nebraskan, I'm a little disappointed that Aurora hasn't let her do what the coach in Michigan has. But I'm also glad you won't be coming to the state to watch her go if and when they finally do. It's no skin off your nose, Ed, so mind your own business.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. Lisa

    I'm glad for her she got the special invite, however I'm really glad her home school isn't just giving her a spot on the cheeleading team because of her disability. For God's sake she has no legs, stubs for arms, and is in a wheelchair. Face it, she can't cheer as cheer is intended. Sorry folks, but having a disability means just that. Quit making the disabled feel like they can do anything that everyone else can...because they can't! Thanks to her own school for realizing and standing firm on that!

    September 29, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Jodie

      If that's the way you really feel, then you shouldn't be raising children, getting married, or spending time around other people because you are seriously disabled in the "love for others" department.

      For God's sake you have no heart and your mind is closed. Face it, you can't love others as God intended. Sorry Lisa, but having a disability means just that. Quit trying to feel like you are capable of human relationships...because you aren't! Thanks to those in your area who refuse to have anything to do with you and standing firm on that!

      September 29, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Tracy

      hey lisa, you are a jerk and it wouldn't be a wrong to the universe if you lost your legs or arms in an accident. I'm not hoping for it; I'm just saying: I think your narrow viewpoint would IMPROVE.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Karina

      @Lisa- I'm pretty sure that you do not have a soul.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Cato

      Lisa, you know the girl on the cheerleading team in all the high school movies that's always the real witch? That's you. You know how they always end up too, don't you? Unhappy and lonely, when they're exposed for what they are. Good'll need it.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Gina Garibaldi

      Lisa, you are an amazingly pathetic loser!!!

      September 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lisa

    I'm glad for her she got the special invite, however I'm really glad her home school isn't just giving her a spot on the cheeleading team because of her disability. For God's sake she has no legs, stubs for arms, and is in a wheelchair. Face it, she can't cheer as cheer is intended. Sorry folks, but having a disability means just that. Quit making the disabled feel like they can do anything that everyone else can...because they can't! Thanks to her own school for realizing and standing firm on that!

    September 29, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Tex71

      Last time I checked, "cheer" meant "to urge on or applaud with [a glad, excited shout of joy or approval]" (Webster).
      If you think that such encouragement necessarily implies a display adapted from Moulin Rouge floor shows, then you have a problem. Cheering is not a sport. It is encouragement. Reducing girls' athletics to sideline support for boys is discriminatory enough without placing restrictions on the physical attributes of the girls. We stopped doing that to female airline crewmembers decades ago, for G-d's sake. In more civilized countries, female athletes would never be expected to perform a decorative function. Time we graduated.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. Amber Goff

    I am glad that she got her dream I hope she do a lot more things that would make her very happy!!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. Margaret Scharnweber

    I will be showing this wonderful story to my 14 year old daughter. The girls on the Portland Cheer leading squad are awesome.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. LifeWarrior93

    Actually the definition of disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities.
    Just because het movement is limited doesn't mean she cant do anything. I'm really glad they let her do this. Somebody said something about a law suit but that makes no sense at all. Who is going to sue a school for letting a girl be a cheerleader? The point of being a cheerleader isnt to do backflips or formations or any of that crap, it's meaning is in the name. The point is to lead the crowd of students and parents in cheers to get them excited so they will all cheer on the team because they won't do it on their own, and she obviously did that so I don't understand your issues with this.Dont be so freaking snobby thinking that everything has to look just perfect. I'm happy for her and I hope she makes the team at her school too.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. JoeG

    This story renewed my faith in humanity. Many of these comments are bringing it back down to earth. To many people have reduced themselves tob being just disgusting creatures, it is sickening. All of you posting negatively on this story should be ashamed of yourselves. So what if she can't "cheer the way cheering was intended" as one poster said. Does it really matter? She is cheering the way SHE is able to. It is giving her happiness, uplifting the morale of the squad, and really isn't impeding anyone that I can tell. So kudos to her and Linda Fox, and the rest of you can take your lack of humanity and compassion and stuff it where the sun don't shine.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jay Cool (


    September 29, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. barbara

    This is one of the most heart warming stories I've read in a long time... Hat's off to Portland High School for extending themselves to this girl. I hope her own high school will reconsider. The ones who don't want to include her, are the ones will the real disability.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bolaji09

    Well...first, God bless you, Julia. God bless you, Ms. Fox, for enabling the chance to get this story shared. It's wonderful that Julia got to do what she wants to do. It's also important to not dismiss outright the negative sentiments expressed in this forum (as crass as some have been). The "what-ifs" are compelling. If Julia got on her school squad, the due diligence that would be required of the staff and her teammates to ensure her safety on a regular basis would be trying. The Portland, MI squad bodily lifted Julia to a considerable height and they did it with care and obvious caution. On a regular squad, the consistency of the care and caution may not be guaranteed, and should she be dropped with severe injuries, I doubt it would be fair to expect her and her family to simply say "well, you tried" and go back home without injuring the school back financially. Caution, everyone.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  15. CG

    Works for me! I gotta say she's super cute and looks like she's having a lot of fun. If she can remember her chears, scream her head off and wave the pom-poms around, she's as good as gold.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
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