Smiles and Pom Poms team shares 'contagious' joy

Fans of Jesuit football are gearing up for a big game this week against hometown rival Beaverton. But, the game isn't the only thing that will draw a crowd under this week's Friday night lights at Jesuit at 7 pm.

Many of Jesuit's students, parents, and teachers are looking forward to a very special halftime show led by junior Abby Riddle '20.

On Friday, Abby will lead fourteen young athletes with Downs Syndrome in their second annual cheer and dance performance out on Cronin Field. The athletes, ages 8 to 18, are members of Abby's Smiles and Pom Poms team.

Abby says she was inspired to start her Smiles and Pom Poms project after she and her dad volunteered together at a Special Olympics basketball tournament. "The special athletes were so energetic, loving, and confident—it was contagious. This was the beginning of an experience that has changed our lives."

After their day of volunteering, Abby and her parents wanted to figure out a way to give back to the community. As a varsity cheerleader at Jesuit, forming her own special cheer and dance team seemed like the right fit. Thus, after much hard work in the summer of 2017, Smiles and Pom Poms was born that fall.

"Last year was life-changing. I got to see the effect that dancing and performing had on our special athletes and the joy it brought them and me," says Abby about the team's first performance at a JHS football game last season. "The Jesuit community also was impacted. The students, fans, teachers, and parents were overwhelmingly supportive. The energy in the stadium was electric!"

Now, Abby wants to spread the joy: "Why not try to get other cheerleaders at other schools to do this program?" Her goal is to get 1,000 high schools across the country to start a Smiles and Pom Poms team of their own.

Way to go, Abby!