Cleveland Cheer Welcomes First Deaf Students


Clarion photo Lily Tewfik

Go Team!- Melissa Carrasco and Jessica Pineda prepare to show school spirit

By Mia Johnson, Reporter


Deaf students Melissa Carrasco and Jessica Pineda joined Cleveland’s varsity cheer team this year, becoming the first known pair with hearing disabilities to commit themselves to the sport and their teammates.

Carrasco, a sophomore, and Pineda, a senior, were recruited by coach Jamie Butler and coaxed into stepping out of their comfort zones to belong to a group of hearing students on campus.

“After speaking with my family about cheerleading, the coach (Jamie Butler) actually visited us here in the deaf classroom. She gave us an application form for tryouts and after I tried out I felt like I could really do it, like I could hang out with hearing people and make friends and have a lot of laughter and fun,” Carrasco said.

Pineda puts it simply, “We want to be healthy, we like the uniforms and it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy it. I think we’re the first deaf or hard of hearing students that wanted to join a sport like this and were willing to practice.”

This was confirmed by Jan Watt, special projects coordinator. “They have become the first students in any living memory with hearing disabilities on Cleveland’s varsity cheer team and that have been willing to commit to an activity such as this.”

Cleveland’s deaf student community, located in room 116, is challenged to find activities to feel a sense of belonging with the greater Cleveland community, but Carrasco during a recent interview with an interpreter talked about how the team has been inclusive and made her and Pineda feel welcomed.

“The team actually pulls us in and includes us,” said Pineda.

Jenny Truong, senior and fellow member of the cheer team said, “We all get along well and having Melissa and Jessica on the team definitely adds diversity. We really have all sorts of different girls on the team.”

Carrasco explained how she has always loved the idea of cheerleading and has practiced a lot on her own, but this is her first time being a part of a real team like this. It has been a difficult transition for her and not something she is quite used to yet, but she loves to cheer.

“I’ve done a lot of practice on my own, but this is my first year on an actual cheer squad. I love to cheer because I like to show my school spirit, I like to be involved in school activities and involved with friends, I like the practice aspect, I just love it,” Carrasco said.

Similarly, Pineda has always loved dancing but being on a squad like this has been a totally new experience. Both girls work very hard to keep up with the team and show incredible commitment.

Truong says of this, “It amazes me how hard they work to be a part of this team, especially with their hearing disabilities. They record our cheers and go home and practice every day to be a part of this team.”

Some of the main difficulties that arise for Melissa and Jessica, stem from the verbal aspect of the sport as they do feel comfortable and accepted by their teammates.

“Being a part of such a verbal sport is for sure a challenge and a struggle for me. The coach has helped a lot. Jessica has less experience and coach has been very helpful. The coach has told both of us that we can just join the formation and be a part of the team. She teaches us new cheers when we’re ready. Sometimes I feel like it is a lot and I don’t really do the chants and cheers, the vocal aspect. At times I have to rely on my lip reading and it can be hard to understand and I make mistakes. It’s a great opportunity for me to work on these skills and now I feel more comfortable joining the other girls,” Carrasco said.

Coach Butler has offered plenty of help and patience, according to both girls. Pineda adds that coordinating all the details through interpreters can be difficult since they are an essential part of learning for both of them. “I need a lot of help to be able to do this. My interpreters Dan and Casey, and my speech therapist Renee, help me understand the cheers and instructions. One of my interpreters comes to every practice and game and they take turns in doing so,” said Pineda.

Cheerleading has become an important staple in the lives of these two girls and Carrasco, only a sophomore, says it is something she hopes to continue throughout high school. Both Carrasco and Pineda are surely leaving their mark on Cleveland