The Vocational Development Center in Council Bluffs will have a cheerleading squad competing in the Iowa State Games of the Special Olympics for the first time ever.
This year’s games will be held Saturday in Iowa City.
Even though this will be its first time competing in the event, the team has an edge. One of the coaches is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Tami Barker was part of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad from 1977 to 1980 and performed at two Superbowls.
“I was born with pom-poms in my hand,” said Barker, who also ran a cheerleading school for elementary students for 11 years. “I didn’t know much about special needs individuals when my friend (residential services assistant), Rheanna Webber, asked me to help with the team, so we set up a meet and greet,” she said. “Instantly, I saw this was going to be the most amazing thing in my life.”
The squad consists of VODEC clients Sarah Arnold, Lori Brandenburg, Elise Collins, Maurice Haywood, Noah Judkins, Trisha McPartland, Marlo Spencer and Sharon Vaughn. Ashlie Autera, residential services assistant, is helping Barker with the coaching duties.
“This is the first time we’ve participated in cheerleading,” Autera said. “They’re all excited and doing really well. We practice the routine every week. We’re thrilled to have Tami as a volunteer coach. She’s absolutely outstanding, and she knows what she’s doing. On top of that, she’s very dedicated to our clients – and they just love her!”
Barker believes she is getting just as much, if not more, from this experience as the athletes.
“I had no idea how good this was going to make me feel,” she said. “I had some stereotypes in my mind, and they’ve all been smashed. They are eight over-the-top personalities. They make me laugh, and their love is unconditional.”
VODEC is a nonprofit organization that provides services to people with disabilities so that those individuals may live, work and participate in the community to achieve their fullest potential.