Big 10 provides cheering opportunity for special needs athletes

Posted Nov. 04, 2013, at 4:58 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 05, 2013, at 8:38 a.m.

HERMON, Maine — When Brittany Madden bought Big 10 Cheer three years ago, her focus was on getting enough people interested to keep the program running. Now, with six teams and more than 200 cheerleaders working through the gym, Madden has been able to do something she says is extremely rewarding: have a special needs cheering team.

Madden, along with her husband and co-director Joshua Madden, began this newest team in June and say they’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“Our first two years were building years, just trying to get our name out there and get good attendance,” she said. “There are lots of gyms that have special needs teams – we’re not the first to ever come up with the idea. We just decided to go for it [in June] and thought it would be really exciting and fun, which is awesome. It’s been awesome.”

The current team started with two athletes: Ciarra Boucher, a freshman at Brewer High School; and Sydney Newcomb, a seventh-grader from Holbrook Middle School in Holden. Over the last couple of weeks the team has grown to 11 members..

Ciarra and Sydney have been able to work on team routines rather than the duet they had been practicing since they began together a few months ago.

“It doesn’t happen often enough for [Ciarra],” said Michelle Harmon, Ciarra’s mother.

Ciarra, who also cheers for Brewer High School, had a hard time picking her favorite part about Big 10 Cheer, saying she likes “all of it,” especially the coaches, and would stay longer if she could. “The hardest part is when my mother picks me up every day,” she said.

Sydney and her mother, Jennifer Newcomb, both echoed those statements, and have seen a real growth since Sydney began at Big 10 Cheer in June.

“They embrace everything with a great attitude, and that’s something everyone can learn from,” Jennifer Newcomb said.

Other members of the team are Michelle Henderson, Karen Colwell, Angel Jenkins, Samantha Laurent, Dawn Nicholson, Patty Brooks, Amanda Caruso, Jamie Eaton, Angel Murray and Tonya Reeves.

Madden, a Glenburn native, cheered at the University of Maine and graduated from Pierre’s School of Cosmetology before buying the Big 10 gym from Leslie Toole, who ran Classic Cheering before Big 10 took over.

“I think just because we were young and fresh it bloomed into more than what it had been,” Madden said.

The gym employs five coaches to guide the six teams. Teams are divided based on age and tumbling skills besides the special needs team, which is open to all ages.

Three of the other five teams have started competing, while the special needs team begins its competitions in March. Madden, who says that the decision-making process behind who lands on what team can be “heartbreaking” at times, says her special needs team will be accepting new members until December. Members of the special needs team have developmental disorders.

Madden described Big 10 Cheer as an all-star cheering team and cheering program comprised of athletes from a range of age groups who compete at different meets nationally against other all-star teams.

“There are some gyms that have been around for 30-plus years and that have multiple locations,” she said. “It’s a huge deal once you get into all-star cheering. It’s a whole different world than high school cheering. It’s so much more competitive.”

Athletes can also compete at the individual or duet levels in addition to the teams. Madden said there isn’t an age restriction, meaning anyone age 5 and above has the chance to make a team. The cost for joining Big 10 is $45 a month.

“It’s more than worth it,” Harmon said. “This has been the highlight of Ciarra’s life.”

“The most rewarding part about this team is seeing them do things that they’ve never done before. It’s just awesome when you see them scream and their face light up and they just have never experienced [that] before,” Madden said.

“A lot of the other kids, they’ve all cheered their whole life. Overall, when they finally hit that routine, just seeing them have that self-gratitude, being proud of themselves is just awesome.”

Although Madden says the organizational and logistical aspect of the job can get tiring at times, the growth she sees in her athletes on all six teams is a good payoff for all the extra work.

“If I didn’t love it, I probably wouldn’t do it because it requires a lot,” she said. “I’m a travel agent, I’m a coach, coordinating everything. I just want to make each athlete individually the best they can be and [be able to] show people that.”

Those seeking more information on Big 10 Cheer, may call its office at 207-200-1130.