Hanover Park-based cheerleading team wins unified world title

Hanover Park-based cheerleading team wins unified world title

  • The Elite Stars team and coaches at the International Cheer Union World Championships at Walt Disney World in late April, where they won the gold medal in the unified division, which is for teams with both special needs and able-bodied athletes.

    The Elite Stars team and coaches at the International Cheer Union World Championships at Walt Disney World in late April, where they won the gold medal in the unified division, which is for teams with both special needs and able-bodied athletes. Courtesy of Elite Stars

  • The Elite Stars team and coaches at the International Cheer Union World Championships at Walt Disney World in late April. In all, their team of 23 included 16 athletes with special needs. Members came from across the suburbs to train.

    The Elite Stars team and coaches at the International Cheer Union World Championships at Walt Disney World in late April. In all, their team of 23 included 16 athletes with special needs. Members came from across the suburbs to train. Courtesy of Elite Stars

  • The Elite Stars competed against teams from 26 countries and won the world title in the unified division.

    The Elite Stars competed against teams from 26 countries and won the world title in the unified division. Courtesy of Elite Stars

  • "I loved being a part of it," said Lindsey Pazerunas, 24, of Inverness. Pazerunas, who has Down syndrome, is part of the Elite Stars cheer team, which recently won the gold.

    "I loved being a part of it," said Lindsey Pazerunas, 24, of Inverness. Pazerunas, who has Down syndrome, is part of the Elite Stars cheer team, which recently won the gold. Courtesy of Elite Stars

 

Seven weeks. That's how long a cheerleading squad based in Hanover Park had to prepare for a world competition, representing the United States, no less.

Back in February, the Elite Stars were selected to be Team USA by USA Cheer in the unified cheer division at the International Cheer Union World Championships, held at the end of April at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Competing in the unified division meant that their squad included able-bodied athletes with those with special needs.

In all, their team of 23 included 16 athletes with special needs. They came from across the suburbs to train, including Arlington Heights, Bensenville, Chicago, Clarendon Hills, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Elmwood Park, Hanover Park, Hinsdale, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Lisle, Norridge, Park Ridge, Schaumburg and Wheeling.

Practicing at Gymkhana Gymnastics in Hanover Park, the squad worked on a wide range of tumbling skills, including round-offs, back handsprings, pyramids, cradles and partner stunts, as well as their standard cheers.
Practicing at Gymkhana Gymnastics in Hanover Park, the squad worked on a wide range of tumbling skills, including round-offs, back handsprings, pyramids, cradles and partner stunts, as well as their standard cheers. - Courtesy of Elite Stars

Practicing at Gymkhana Gymnastics in Hanover Park, the squad worked on a wide range of tumbling skills, including round-offs, back handsprings, pyramids, cradles and partner stunts, as well as their standard cheers.

In the end, all their hard work paid off. Of all the teams competing -- from 26 countries -- the Elite Stars won the world title.

"It was such a thrill," says Jacqueline Sanchez, head coach. "All of our training, of sometimes up to three hours a day, two to three days a week, really paid off on the world stage."

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Their coaches believe it is the first time a cheerleading team with special needs athletes earned recognition at the international level, but to the athletes, it was all about having fun. After all, they spent four days in Disney World, and before that spent hours together over those seven weeks with their teammates working toward this common goal.

"I loved being a part of it," said Lindsey Pazerunas, 24, of Inverness.

Pazerunas has Down syndrome, but she has participated for years in gymnastics, dancing and cheerleading at Gymkhana, and at the world championship, it showed. She and every member of the team completed all the tumbling stunts, including cartwheels, round-offs and forward rolls.

"Our stunt groups were very athletic," said Elite Stars Coach Jacqueline Sanchez. "Our formations with our flyers were great. Overall, we just showcased our athletes right in front."
"Our stunt groups were very athletic," said Elite Stars Coach Jacqueline Sanchez. "Our formations with our flyers were great. Overall, we just showcased our athletes right in front." - Courtesy of Elite Stars

On top of that, Pazerunas was selected to be a part of the running tumbling sequence, where she pulled off a series of cartwheels and ended with a round-off. Her coaches said she and her teammates nailed it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Our stunt groups were very athletic," Sanchez added. "Our formations with our flyers were great. Overall, we just showcased our athletes right in front."

The able-bodied members served as peer coaches, performing on the floor with the athletes in this unified team. The athletes ranged from those like Pazerunas with Down syndrome to those on the autism spectrum, but they all say their accomplishments in the gym have led to increased confidence.

Best of all, Pazerunas said, was winning a gold medal.

"It's really big," Pazerunas added, "and heavy."

Elite Stars will host a cheerleading camp July 10-14 at Gymkhana Gymnastics in Hanover Park for prospective athletes of all abilities.
Elite Stars will host a cheerleading camp July 10-14 at Gymkhana Gymnastics in Hanover Park for prospective athletes of all abilities. - Courtesy of Elite Stars

Look for Pazerunas and the rest of the squad to sport their Team USA uniforms and big, gold medals at upcoming community events throughout the suburbs. But then it's back to the gym.

Elite Stars will host a cheerleading camp next month for prospective athletes of all abilities. It takes place from July 10-14 at Gymkhana Gymnastics in Hanover Park. Traditionally, it draws nearly 80 participants from more than two dozen suburbs and increasingly across the country.

For more information, visit www.EliteStars.org.

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