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ST. CHARLES, Mo. – The Special Olympics state basketball games took place across the St. Louis area over the weekend; but there was another group participating from the sidelines.

The Francis Howell School District’s Sparks Cheer Team had a busy weekend. They performed Friday night and then attended a dance with all of the athletes. Then on Saturday morning, they were on the sidelines putting all of their energy into pumping up the Francis Howell Special Olympics Basketball Team.

Francis Howell School District’s director of Special Olympics Eddie Mulholland loves having the Sparks involved in the games.

“The Special Olympics organization doesn’t necessarily have a cheerleading competition, but we wanted to create a team for our athletes that wanted to be cheerleaders and support the programs and showcase their talent at events throughout the year,” Mulholland said.

The program started four years ago and they’re led by volunteer coach Malerie Cole.

“They are cheerleaders, just like their peers, just like other cheerleaders they see on TV, and just seeing that confidence, and that smile, and the friendships just exude through them is just amazing,” Cole said.

All of the team members say they look forward to their weekly practices and seeing their friends.

Not only do the cheerleaders enjoy it, but so do the buddies. Sophia Hake, 13, is a member of the Francis Howell Junior Vikings Cheerleading Squad. She started helping out with the Sparks this season and immediately gravitated toward Sparks cheerleader Claire Valvero.

“It makes her have fun, and she’s happy, and it makes me happy,” Hake said.

Coach Cole said the program is growing every year, and they accept cheerleaders from all over the area. Participants do not have to be inside of the Francis Howell School District.

The Sparks are also currently raising funds for new uniforms. Click here to learn more.