Team USA cheerleaders honored in Hanover Township for winning world title

Team USA cheerleaders honored in Hanover Township for winning world title

  • Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett recently. The team will begin training in September for their next season of competition.

    Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett recently. The team will begin training in September for their next season of competition. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett. Team USA comprises able-bodied and special needs athletes from Elite Stars Cheerleading in Hanover Park,

    Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett. Team USA comprises able-bodied and special needs athletes from Elite Stars Cheerleading in Hanover Park, Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
Posted8/26/2019 10:53 AM

Ever since Ashley Jones of Hoffman Estates learned to do a cartwheel at the age of 7, her world turned upside down.

Jones, who now is 30, was among the world championship Team USA cheerleaders to be recognized last week by members of the Hanover Township board and State Rep. Michelle Mussman, who represents Schaumburg.

 
Audrey Brickwood of Palatine shakes hands with Hanover Township Supervisor Brian P. McGuire during a recognition ceremony for members of Team USA, comprising able-bodied and special needs athletes from Elite Stars Cheerleading in Hanover Park, at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett recently.
Audrey Brickwood of Palatine shakes hands with Hanover Township Supervisor Brian P. McGuire during a recognition ceremony for members of Team USA, comprising able-bodied and special needs athletes from Elite Stars Cheerleading in Hanover Park, at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett recently. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Each cheerleader was called up individually by Supervisor Brian McGuire, who presented them with a certificate and championship ring.

"Cheerleading is such a hard sport and takes a lot of time and commitment," McGuire said. "Congratulations on a great job."

Recognition by the board and dinner out afterward as a team was just icing on the cake for these cheerleaders, who begin training in September for their next competitive season. Ultimately, they hope to return to worlds to defend their title.

"I love doing cartwheels," Jones said. "I love dancing, the music and just being on the team."

Jones and her teammates train with the Elite Stars at Gymkhana Gymnastics in Hanover Park. Back in April, competing as Team USA, they won the world title at the International Cheer Union World Championships held at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

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Mili Patel, 12, of Hoffman Estates, center, is among those receiving an award and certificate from Hanover Township Supervisor Brian P. McGuire during a recognition ceremony for members of Team USA at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett.
Mili Patel, 12, of Hoffman Estates, center, is among those receiving an award and certificate from Hanover Township Supervisor Brian P. McGuire during a recognition ceremony for members of Team USA at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Of the 23 team members, 16 have special needs. Their coaches believe it is the first time a cheerleading team with special needs athletes earned recognition at the international level.

Yet, competing in the unified division did not diminish their abilities.

"We couldn't do any skills that were above the level of what our special athletes could do," said Caitlin Courtney of Chicago, who cheered with the team as a peer coach. "The stunts, the tumbling, we all worked on them together, as a team."

Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett. Back in April, they won the world title at the International Cheer Union World Championships held at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett. Back in April, they won the world title at the International Cheer Union World Championships held at Walt Disney World in Orlando. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In fact, their winning routine included round-offs, back handsprings, pyramids, cradles, partner stunts and cartwheels, often in a run.

Tessa Podraza, 24, of Huntley eagerly shook hands with McGuire after receiving her certificate and ring.

"I love it all," Podraza said of competing with the team. "I like performing and proving to people -- and the judges -- that people with special needs can do anything.

"These coaches," she added, "treat us like all-stars."

One of her teammates, Renee Grandstaff of Hanover Park, said she loved the dancing and the music, and worked hard at her responsibilities as a base in the stunt groups.

As for winning the gold medal: "I almost cried."

Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett. Back in April, they won the world title at the International Cheer Union World Championships held at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Team USA members hold their awards and certificates during a recognition ceremony at the Hanover Township Senior Center in Bartlett. Back in April, they won the world title at the International Cheer Union World Championships held at Walt Disney World in Orlando. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Athletes on the team came from a long way to train for the world championships, including Arlington Heights, Bensenville, Chicago, Clarendon Hills, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Elmwood Park, Hanover Park, Hinsdale, Hoffman Estates, Huntley, Inverness, Lisle, Norridge, Park Ridge, Schaumburg and Wheeling.

Mussman visited with the athletes after the meeting. She came, she said, because of her strong support for the special needs community and belief that they should be recognized more as contributing members of the community.

"We need to find ways to be more of an inclusive community," Mussman said, "and this is a good start."

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