Cheers From The Challenged

'Destiny All Stars' Cheerleading Team
"Destiny All Stars" Cheerleading Team

When Chloe Thomas became a cheerleader, her life went from solitary to social.

"She met girls that were more like her, that she could associate with, and it just really brought her out," her mother, Laura says.

Chloe, who's 14 years old, has a developmental disability. But on the "Destiny All Stars" cheerleading team, that's nothing unusual, because everyone does, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor.

From Down syndrome to autism, the disabilities that exclude children from most cheerleading squads have brought them together in this one.

During weekly 90 minute practices, Chloe found what every adolescent craves: a sense of belonging.

"I get to meet new friends and cheer a lot," she says.

Destiny, which is based in Gaithersburg, is riding a nation-wide wave that has doubled in size in the past year. There are nearly 160 squads of special-needs cheerleaders in 34 states. Dr. Allen Crocker, an expert in the field, says the program bucks society's tendency to leave kids with disabilities behind.

Now the girls have play dates, tea parties and sleepovers. Thirteen-year-old Clare, who rarely speaks, found her first friend here, in assistant Marlo Bloom.

"If I say Marlo's name you can see the brightness in her eyes and she kind of smiles a little bit," says her mom, Paula Kearney.

Clare has both Down syndrome and autism. At first, her mother was skeptical.

"I couldn't imagine Clare engaging in cheerleading and how that would even be possible," she remembers.

Fourteen-year-old Marlo had to move Clare's arms for her in the beginning, but now Clare follows part of the routine by herself.

"She knows what a high-v is, she knows what a low-v is," Karen Mason says. "We do frog jumps across the floor and she knows to ribbit when she's going across the floor, so she's just shown huge improvement."

The team's cartwheels and roundoffs might not look perfect to you. But don't tell that to Chloe.

"I am so good," she says.

"She really is good. She has the most amazing self-esteem that I have ever seen. And that didn't come from me," Laura Thomas. "That came from this group of girls feeding off of each other and blossoming into what they've become."