Glenn wanted to be a cheerleader since he was a little boy, so he and his family were overjoyed when he finally made his high school’s cheerleading squad after his freshman year. But during the summer, his family began to get suspicious when his training materials didn’t arrive. Was there discrimination involved? Was Glenn being kicked off the team because he has Down syndrome? His uncle and grandmother were determined to get to the bottom of it.
Dreams of cheerleading
Everyone has dreams, goals, and wishes that they hope to one day accomplish. Of course, some people’s dreams are more achievable than others, but no matter how fantastic their wishes may be, everyone deserves a chance to try to make them a reality.
Glenn Wilson is a 17-year-old high school student from Columbus, Ohio, who had a very special dream – he wanted to be a cheerleader. That may not seem so far-fetched, but a lot stood in the way of the teenager’s goal.
When Glenn was young, he watched as his older cousins joined their local competitive cheerleading team. He saw his family members practice their cheers and lifts, their splits and kicks, and he loved attending their competitions.
Glenn felt inspired by the cheers, and so, he made it his goal to become a cheerleader one day. Glenn’s family supported and encouraged him to pursue his dream, and so he waited patiently until he was old enough to finally become a cheerleader himself.
Even though becoming a cheerleader doesn’t sound like such a lofty goal, there is something that made it more difficult for young Glenn Wilson. Glenn was born with Down syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that occurs in about one out of every 1,000 babies born each year.
Down syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome in a person’s DNA, and usually leads to delays in learning and physical growth. Many people with Down Syndrome go on to live full lives, and that’s exactly what Glenn intends to do.
The opportunity of a lifetime
For many years Glenn Wilson dreamed of becoming a cheerleader.
When he was just part way through his first year at West High School in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, he learned that he would be able to try out for the cheerleading team the following spring. Glenn was so excited – he would finally get the chance to make his dream a reality. He was sure that he would make the team and cheer for the Cowboys the next year.
Making the team
In the spring, the time came for cheerleading tryouts at West High School, and Glenn Wilson was ready.
After all, this was the moment he had been waiting for. Glenn showed up with all of the other students who wanted to join the cheerleading team and gave it his all, impressing everyone with his passion and motivation. Once the tryouts were over, Glenn and his family received the notification they were waiting for – Glenn had made the team!
An excited teenager
Glenn was ecstatic when he learned that he had been accepted to the cheerleading team. “He was the happiest kid when he found out,” said Glenn’s uncle Ray Valentine.
“You would have thought he had just been handed a million dollars and three puppies.” The 17-year-old got right to work and started working on his cheers. He continued practicing throughout the summer, and was always proud to show off his splits, his heel stretches, and his cheers.
Waiting for practice
Soon enough, however, Glenn’s family started to understand that something wasn’t quite right. The family didn’t receive any materials from the school regarding Glenn’s future cheerleading team.
They knew that they were supposed to receive a packet in the mail with Glenn’s uniform and information about the practices, but as the summer wore on, they started to worry. “He kept asking when practice was going to start,” said Glenn’s grandmother Carolyn, who is also his legal guardian.
A message from the coach
At the end of August, the cheer supervisor called the family to let them know what was going on. According to Glenn’s gran Carolyn, the supervisor “said that she didn’t have a spot for him on the team, but that he could be a water boy.”
That’s how they all found out that for some reason, Glenn was no longer on the cheerleading team. Glenn was very sad, of course, but Carolyn told him that they would figure everything out.
A concerned family
While Glenn was excitedly practicing during the summer, the family was trying to understand what had gone wrong. Once school began, Ray Valentine was finally able to get through to the school to ask what was going on.
He said that he had been trying to call all summer but since the school was closed for the summer vacation, there was no answer. Now, Valentine was finally able to get through to the athletic department to ask the questions that he wanted answered.
The reason why
Ray Valentine was determined to get to the bottom of the situation, and he continued to ask the tough questions until he got an explanation. During the phone call, Valentine said that tension was running high and “it got a little heated.”
The cheerleading coach told him that she had made the executive decision to remove Glenn from the team. Valentine was angry and surprised. After all, Glenn had been so happy to make the team just a few months earlier, and now the coach was reversing this decision.
Glenn’s uncle didn’t give up. He pressed the coach for an explanation as to why Glenn had suddenly been removed from the cheerleading roster.
“When I questioned why, she told me that he did not fit the image she wanted the team to portray,” said Ray Valentine. He was shocked, and still didn’t understand what “image” she was talking about. He started asking her what aspect of Glenn was standing in the way. “When I said, ‘Is it because he has Down syndrome?’ she shut up,” said Valentine.
A different offer
The cheerleading coach went on to tell Ray Valentine that she didn’t have the qualifications to coach special needs children.
She wasn’t ready to have Glenn on the team because of his Down syndrome, and thought that it would be the best for the squad if he was removed from the roster. She wanted him off the team, but was willing to offer him another position – that of team manager. Glenn still wouldn’t be able to practice or cheer with the squad, so Valentine wasn’t ready to accept it.
Back to school
After Glenn had spent the entire summer looking forward to being a part of the cheerleading team, he was barred from practices and only allowed to participate in a few home games.
After just one month of school, Glenn had already missed a total of eight practices. “The only time that he had got to practice with the team was at the actual games,” said his grandmother. When he was allowed, Glenn still went out there and cheered his heart out.
Cheering at home
Despite the fact that Glenn did not have the opportunity to practice with the squad, he still made quite an impression when he was allowed to cheer at games. “The kids just love him,” said his Grandma Carolyn.
“During his first game all the girls on the team hollered and clapped for him.” The family wasn’t ready to give up, though. They were determined to give Glenn the chance to practice and cheer with the cheerleading team that had accepted him that spring.
An angry uncle
Uncle Ray Valentine decided to take the matter to the officials in the Columbus City School District, but they said that they would support the coach’s decision.
So, Valentine went to share his grievances with the school board to see what the board members had to say about it. He told Glenn’s story, and found support. “When I spoke about it at the Columbus city school board meeting, people were speechless and in total shock,” said Valentine.
A question of discrimination
Glenn’s family is sure that the reason for Glenn being left out of the practices comes down to discrimination, and they are determined to keep fighting for Glenn’s right to be on the cheerleading team, just like any other teenager.
Grandma Carolyn doesn’t think the discrimination is limited to Glenn, either. “It’s unfair, because I’m sure a lot of other children have been discriminated against like he has been,” she said. “They’ve just had no one to step up to the plate for them.”
Working for change
Carolyn is right – Glenn’s case is not unique. In fact, children with Down syndrome often have trouble making friends and can even be excluded from school events and other functions.
In addition, it can be very difficult for adults with Down syndrome to get paid jobs, and only about 20% of adults with Down syndrome are employed in the United States. Many organizations and individuals, like the members of Glenn’s family, are working to try to change this troubling status quo.
A member of the team
At first, when Ray Valentine contacted school authorities, they upheld the coach’s decision. However, after he spoke at the school board meeting and got the support of other parents, the officials changed their minds.
They finally gave Glenn the team’s schedule so he could practice with the other cheerleaders, and they allowed him to cheer at home games. It may have been a step in the right direction, but Valentine said that the gesture was too little, too late.
An uncle’s demands
The school may have changed its decision on the matter, but Glenn had already missed half of the season. On top of that, his family still feels that he is not being treated equally.
Glenn showed up to a scheduled practice one day only to find out that the team had moved the practice to the night before without notifying him. Following the ordeal, Ray Valentine is asking that the coach change her position on the matter or be let go.
The school’s claims
The cheerleading team staff have not made any statements about what happened to Glenn, but a spokesman for the school district released a comment. “He is a full member of that cheerleading team,” said Scott Varner.
“We are looking into the matter to try and understand what had happened.” He went on to admit that there were indeed mistakes made in the handling of the situation but that now, “He’s just like any other cheerleader on that team, and he is not being excluded in any way.”
Everyone deserves a chance
It’s heartwarming to see how happy Glenn is when he’s on the field, cheering with his team. His family refused to give up until he was allowed on the squad, but not everyone has a loving family to advocate for them.
Carolyn worries about these children, and believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed and follow their dreams. “No matter what they have or what they are, each child deserves the chance to do what they want to do in life,” she said. “These kids need attention, not discrimination.”