It was hard to tell who was beaming the most Sunday after the Millard North Sparkle Showcase, where cheer and dance team members with disabilities performed alongside teammates without disabilities.
Perhaps it was the special-needs participants, such as 16-year-old Kaleigh Hamrick, a junior at Millard North High School, who said she loves “everything” about cheering and dancing.
Or perhaps proud parents, like Kaleigh’s mother, Kari Hamrick, who said she has watched her daughter and others grow in confidence and skill.
Or perhaps the biggest, brightest smiles Sunday were those of Kaleigh’s teammates and mentors, Cassie Burkhalter and Remmie Monahan, Millard North seniors and varsity cheerleaders who organized Sunday’s event.
The showcase took months of work, Monahan said, but the effort “was so worth it.”
About 100 students — from Millard North, Westside and Burke High Schools — performed in a Millard North auditorium in front of about 130 fans. It was the first time that the Sparkle teams had joined together for an event.
Each student was introduced before his or her team began its routine. The students did chanting cheers, stunts and lifts. They danced, jumped and waved pompoms.
Emcees led into each performance by reading shoutouts from loved ones, such as “Way to go, Zoey! We love you.”
About $700 was raised from the $3 admission and a raffle, Burkhalter said. Proceeds will help the Millard North team with expenses.
Diana Lundquist and her daughter, Erika, 15, sat near the front of the auditorium to watch and see if Erika might be interested in joining Westside’s team next year, her mother said.
Erika likes music and dancing and has taken dance classes, Lundquist said.
Sunday’s three teams make up about half of the Sparkle teams in the Omaha area and are among about 180 in the United States, Burkhalter and Monahan said.
The notion of Sparkle teams — mixing those with and without disabilities to cheer and dance — began in Iowa in 2008 and developed into a nonprofit called The Sparkle Effect.
“We just fell in love with working with these students,” Monahan said. “They’re just so fun. They brighten your day.”
Millard North’s Sparkle team was started four years ago by then-senior Maddie Fallon, who had a sibling with a disability, Burkhalter and Monahan said.
This school year, the two created the showcase as a project for a marketing class and DECA club.
Though Monahan and Burkhalter will be graduating, they want the Sparkle Showcase to continue and grow, they said.
“It would be amazing” to get all Omaha-area teams together next year, Burkhalter said. “Hopefully this carries on.”