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. Bettina

    You have got to bee kidding me. There are actually physical limitations that each of us have, why do we pretend there are none. There is a reason we don't have blind pilots, bus drivers, etc. Why do we pretend we are all capable of doing whatever we wish or want to do. American Idol is an example of a segment of the population that have unrealistic expectations. Just because you think you can sing and be a pop star does not make it so. Find out what you're actually good at and do it!!!!!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • @Bettina

      "Find out what you're actually good at and do it!!!!!!"

      I couldn't agree more, Bettina. Unfortunately, posting well-reasoned, non-bitter comments on the Internet is not your forte. Time to look for a new hobby...

      September 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • TCOB

      Because having dreams that many kids do, and finding someone who will help you chase those dreams is worthy of reprobation? No, she will never cheer like someone with complete limbs, and no, she is not looking to drive a bus, or do some other job that involves the care of human life. She is cheering on a team, and has been persistent about doing so, to the point where her desire and persistence were recognized and rewarded. Great spirit against staggering odds. She is to be commended.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • cmkc

      I don't think you're being bitter at all. Realistic. II may have always wanted to be a 6 foot tall blond model, but I'm a 5'2" tall brunette. Everyone thinks it's everyone's else job to help them overcome an obstacle over which they have no control.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Playjojo

      I love the way they cheerfully say, "Oops! Looks like you've already said that! Duplicate comment!" yet don't print it. Some guy the other day could say, breasts, yet I couldn't say topl*ss!

      September 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • GT66

      Bettina: How about just being kind to a kid who wants to participate and be considered special for something other than what she *can't* do?

      September 29, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ronniereagan

      Bettina is an lDlOT. I've seen plenty of fat and ugly cheerleaders. This girl is actually good looking, has spirit and in good shape. What counts is if she gets the crowd going. That is after all the implicit definition of being a 'cheer' 'leader.' Face the music, Bettina.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • @Bettina

      You're probably right that she doesn't have what it takes especially coming from someone like you who is far from anyone's idea of a cheerleader who only knows how to be "boo-leader"! It's not limbs that define what a person can do but their mind and what they know, Boottina!

      September 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. TheLeftCoast

    There is an award-winning dance troupe in Oakland, CA, that features disabled dancers, Axis Dance Company.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CanadaCheerMom

    Julia you truly ARE an inspiration! I am sure there is more to this story-re: having to drive 800 miles for cheer, but you keep at it girl! Follow your heart.And to your team mates and coach, you too inspire!

    September 29, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Smyth

      I think Linda Fox is an inspiration.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Burbank

    If she doesn't make the team I wonder if her parents plan to sue for discrinination and force the school to put her on the team anyway? Only time will tell. We have lost our sense of appropriate boundaries. I feel for that girl and her hard lot in life, but she should focus her energy on something real that she truly can do, perhaps singing or something, not getting whatever you want from manipulating other's into feeling sorry for you. It's an obvious ruse to get attention she doesn't deserve.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Baker5

      It's every little girls dream to be a cheerleader or a ballerina, and she was born (unwillingly) without the 'proper' limbs to perform to normal standers. This was such an easy thing for the coach to do to make this girl happy. Even if it is for only a year, she will still be able to say that she’s done it.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. sheila Rushing

    She is so pretty, I'm so glad that she was able to achieve her dream of becomming a cheer leader.. Just goes to show us that no matter what our short commings are we shouldn't give up. I'll be willing to bet that she's a great insprition to her team.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. HeeHee

    They felt sorry for her because she's disabled.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • MizKel

      Grow up. You're obviously the one with disabilities. They didn't feel sorry for her. They saw her abilities, her potential and, most importantly, her spirit.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      MIZKEL....and they only noticed those things because she is handicapped. The other girls who tried out and were cut, had spirit as well. Where is their opportunity to cheer with the squad?

      September 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • OvernOut

      She's differently abled. I"m not surprised that this story took place in my home state of Michigan. I've never seen a kid yet that has been left out from anything due to physical differences.

      September 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    I wonder what the other girls that didn't make the cheerleading team in Portland think about her making the team?

    September 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • binky42

      Agreed. Most disabled kids hate to be singled out and paraded around like this, knowing that they only made the team out of pity.

      September 30, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. greggiekay

    What is being rewarded here is dedication, drive, desire, and determination. This young woman should be applauded for not giving up, is she totally realistic, no. Dreams are not supposed to be realistic, they are a dream, a stretch, something to potentially aim for and that is precisely what she is doing. Linda Fox, hats off to you, you showed courage to do this, you put it to the team you lead, and they challenged you to do something. It is obvious to me, you are a real leader in that you lead by example, your squad reflects that and obviously have somehow learned the importance of community and looking past the wrapper to look not only inside Julia, but also inside themselves. Watching that video shows me that the people of Portland Michigan truly "get it", that squad is comprised of girls of all shapes and sizes that don't all fit the typical cheerleader mold. To the negative posters here, you obviously just do not get it and I am guessing don't get alot, your lives would be better places with more open minds and spirits.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda Fox

      Thank you! Let the healing begin...

      September 30, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pam

    Cheering should be about rallying the crowd, yelling encouragement for the team, not about how cute you can be bouncing around in short skirts. She should have the chance to participate as she is able. No she can't do a cartwheel, but she can yell, and shout and encourage. And that is what is all that matters. Kudos for a coach and cheer team who showed more class and spirit than her own home school and administration. Shame on them.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      So everyone who tries out should make it. Everyone can yell encouragement.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patty Downer

      Pam, I fully agree....a cheerleader is one who can yell, chant, and lead the fans in cheers for the team. I have coached cheering for 10 years...80% of the cheers is arm movements and yelling..both of which she can do. IF ABLE to jump, tumble etc, she would be judged on that....she should be judged on what she can do which is arm movements and vocals...and I am sure she is very capable of that.

      September 30, 2011 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. vickie

    I didn't read all the comments because I read enough to see how some view this; I for one am not a sports fan but see no reason why someone disable cant cheer on a squad. It has a stereotype of well fit people but they dont have to all follow the same pattern. There are many other ways to get the crowd excited. I see this as allowing others with differences to feel represented. I have always hated the cheerleader type for how it is always held up as such a standard of popularity. So, the complaints about her doing that are really unfounded. She is there to cheer; not to be an athlete or a arrogant and stuck up princess.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      So everyone who tries out should make it. Everyone can cheer.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kenny

    It is sad that no one cares about the other girls who didn't get to cheer with the squad, despite wanting to.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. SMcninja

    Ok seriously? Can anyone say publicity stunt for the 'welcoming' cheer-leading team? I mean kudo's to the kid for going after something like that, but honestly if someone were to walk into the gym and not be able to dance, speak properly, or more their arms around they would laugh the person out of tryouts. Unfortunately not everyone has a wheelchair or a sob story so that people will overlook the fact that you can't do anything. A thought? Maybe this girl should try band or maybe find a cheer-leading group that focus's on people with disabilities.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. hexman13

    Good for her. A young lady with spirit and drive. Too many people put down anyone who achieves something,
    especially if they are "different". No human achievement was accomplished by bitter nay-sayers.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Thinking7

    Very cool story! Congratulations to the girl who persevered! Keep it up!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. OvernOut

    There are some former and current NFL players who have epilepsy. Epilepsy is another type of physical disability. Anybody want to tell them they should sit on the sidelines like good little boys? Anybody want to suggest to a linebacker for the Jets (Eagles, Ravens, etc) that he is just playing for pity or unwarranted attention? Didn't think so.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
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