Norwin's Mighty Knights adaptive squad roots for midget football league

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Earlier this year, a woman told cheerleading coach Jenn McCutcheon that she has two daughters who wanted to cheer, one of whom has special needs.

But the girls' mother said she had a dilemma: She did not want one daughter to cheer and the other to be excluded.

Mrs. McCutcheon, cheerleading coach for the Police Athletic League's Termites, came up with an idea to help and went to the executive board of PAL Norwin about creating an adaptive cheerleading program. She is a member of that board.

The board consented, and last month the six-member Mighty Knights was formed.

"I enjoy the look on their faces, the hugs and kisses when it all comes together," Mrs. McCutcheon of North Irwin said.

The girls, in their Mighty Knights shirts, shorts, sneakers and hair bows, cheer for the PAL's midget football league at most home games.

They sometimes also perform with PAL's cheerleading Termites.

PAL Norwin, a youth-oriented, nonprofit organization operating in combination with the local police force, provides cheerleading, football, baseball and softball programs, some of which include adaptive offerings.

"It gives kids an opportunity to be part of something they would usually not be part of," Irwin resident and PAL treasurer Jerry O'Brien said.

Among the cheerleaders is Brooke Hildenbrand, 13, who said she particularly enjoys what she calls the "secret jump" -- or jumping while cheering when no one expects it.

The West Newton girl said she also likes the football games, shouting through a megaphone, applause from the fans -- and especially making new friends.

Dennis Roycroft of Trafford said it is sometimes difficult to get his daughter, Jessica, 8, on the field because she has stage fright. But, otherwise, she looks forward to cheerleading and its dance-like movements.

Mrs. McCutcheon is assisted in her coaching efforts by Norwin High School cheerleaders, such as Tori Carrick.

Tori, 15, of North Huntingdon said she was hooked after watching the Mighty Knights' joy in performing beside the high school cheerleaders during Youth Night at the high school in late August.

"I like seeing them get so excited about cheerleading," she said.

Stacy Skarja of Norwin said she appreciates the adaptive cheerleading program for its inclusion of all special needs youngsters of various ages.

She said her daughter, Sarah, 15, likes the practices and making new friends.

Mary Ann Gerken of North Huntingdon said her daughter, Amanda, always wanted to cheer. At age 17, she especially enjoys cheering alongside the high schoolers without her limitations getting in the way.

"She can't jump because she has cerebral palsy, but nobody cares," Mrs. Gerken said.

As for the challenges in teaching basic cheers to special needs youngsters, Mrs. McCutcheon said there are none. "It's all just a lot of fun," she said.

Any child, regardless of residence, may join the Mighty Knights next year. Contact Mrs. McCutcheon at for details. The $40 cost includes uniform.

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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