This cheerleading team is changing the lives of adults with special needs.
The Carolina Dream All Stars are the premier cheerleading organization of the Lowcountry, offering a variety of classes for up and coming cheerleaders as well as having a highly ranked competitive cheer team.
However, all of these accolades are not what truly separates them from the rest of the field. Their distinguishing feature is their Island Dream team, which is an all-star cheerleading team comprised of adults with special needs.
Island Dream Team started in 2004 when the coaches reached out to the Programs for Exceptional People, which is a day program for adults with disabilities, and asked if they would be interested in learning cheerleading.
Office manager and coach, Julie Dafler said, “We reached out to them just to see if it was something they were interested in and they had a blast so now we are starting our 16th year.”
Currently they are ranked among the top ten special needs team in the nation and have placed in the top three at the largest all-star cheerleading competition for the last four years. Just like any competitive cheer team, the Island Dream Team travels throughout the southeast to compete against other teams comprised of those with special needs.
When discussing the goals for the team, Dafler said, “Our goal is to always treat them just like everyone else and expect the same behavior we would expect from any of our athletes. We had a goal for a while to win and we got so close finishing second one year, but as our team ages we have lightened the goal to doing the best they can and having fun.”
Carolina Dream prides themselves on promoting a healthy family atmosphere, allowing the Island Dream Team to capitalize on their dedication and work ethic to becoming the best team and individuals they possibly can be.
Cindi Faulkner is a mother of one the team members and observes her daughter at practice daily, “There is so much else in life to discourage them and to have little expectations of them, you are going to get little response, but to have high expectations you will get great results. Carolina Dream has high expectations for them and it has helped them improve so much.”
The Island Dream Team practices push the athletes to learn routines, tumble, as well as be supportive and help one another.
Nadia, who is captain of the Island Dream Team, spoke about what this team means to her, “This team is like my family and they make me so happy.”
The Island Dream Team is a way for team members to learn cheerleading and get some exercise, but the skills they have learned go beyond the mat.
Patsy Dinwiddie, mother of a team member, said, “She has really come out of shell since joining the team. She was really reserved and now has started speaking out much more than before.”
The athletes are not the only ones learning new things, the coaches have been impacted as well.
When discussing working with the athletes directly Dafler added, “I had never worked with people with disabilities and now I don’t even see a difference. We all have things we can’t do or are bad at so I really don’t notice it anymore.”
For those who are not interested in competing, Carolina Dream also offers a tumbling class for individuals of all ages with special needs. For more information on the Island Dream Team or tumbling classes, you can visit their website at carolinadreamcheer.com.
Allison Goodwin is a senior at Hanover College in Indiana, studying communication and minoring in art and business. She plays golf for Hanover and spent her summer as the marketing and editorial intern for Hilton Head Monthly.