Sarah Cronk, the creator of the Sparkle Effect, a non-profit organization that helps high schools around the world create inclusive cheerleading programs, was awarded the $100,000 as part of VH1’s Do Something Award. The award recognizes teens who promote social change, and Sarah’s organization aims to help teens learn that individuals with disabilities are capable of great things. Just 18-years-old and cheerleader herself, Sarah created and coached the first inclusive cheerleading team that includes both students with disabilities and without disabilities when she was just 15-years-old!
Sarah started an inclusive cheerleading squad—the Spartan Sparkles—at her high school after noticing the struggles of her brother, who has autism, to fit in and find social outlets. Her brother was befriended by the school’s swim team captain, and Sarah saw how this simple act of inclusion changed her brother’s life for the better. A cheerleader herself, she wanted to help other kids with disabilities like her brother’s have a better high school experience and enjoy sports and other extracurricular activities that they had not been able to enjoy.
The Spartan Sparkles cheerleading squad, which performed at sports games along with the regular squad, was a huge success. In 2009, the program reached capacity, and instead of congratulating herself on a job well done, Sarah wanted to expand the program. She then created the Sparkle Effect with the goal of helping other high schools create similar inclusive sports programs for teens with developmental and physical disabilities. The Sparkle Effect provides mentors, support, training, grants for uniforms, as well as a free starter kit for schools and organizations who want to start inclusive sports programs.
Map of Sparkles Cheer Teams Across the USA
“Students at all the schools have reported that cheerleaders who are on the squads who have disabilities are being included outside of the squad,” Sarah said in a video that aired during the VH1 show. “People are more willing to talk to them at school. It puts the spotlight on their abilities rather than their disabilities.”
The Sparkle Effect now helps over 50,000 students with and without disabilities understand the importance of inclusion. The Do Something Award will help the program expand and reach even more teens, so that a new generation of people will be able to understand that abilities are more important than disabilities.
Three cheers for Sarah!
Teen Behind Inclusive Cheerleading Awarded $100K On VH1