FREEPORT — No one has more spirit than Aeris Melvin.
The 17-year-old junior at Freeport High School, who has special needs, joined her school’s cheerleading team this year. Since then, students, staff and Aeris’ teammates have welcomed her with open arms.
Before Aeris tried out for the team, she was using her bubbly personality to fill the bulldog suit.
“I was a mascot and I cheered and danced,” said Aeris, who speaks through a translator because she is hard of hearing and has hindered speech.
But one day, the sparkly blue and orange pom-poms caught her attention.
“I like to dance,” Aeris said. “I saw them doing the routines. I wanted pom-poms.”
A nerve-racked Aeris tried out for the team during the spring but didn’t make it. So her mom approached Principal Tripp Hope to see if she could serve on the team in another capacity. Hope said he and the cheer sponsor expected Aeris to attend practices once a week. She soon surpassed all expectations.
“She went full blown into it and did a great job,” Hope said. “Now she’s like every other cheerleader.”
Aeris practices with the team for two hours, four days a week. She learns all the routines and even does stunts.
“When we found out she wanted to be a cheerleader we were a hundred percent for it,” said Katie Dier, a 16-year-old co-captain and a junior. “She’s bought into it and she’s taught us some things too. She catches on quickly. It’s impressive. We don’t treat her differently.”
“She’s always up front,” said captain and senior, 18-year-old Ahren Gilles. “To me, Aeris is the definition of everything a cheerleader is.”
With the addition of Aeris to the team, she has changed and so has their dynamic. Before, Aeris communicated less lucidly or not at all. Now, she is learning to use words without having to use sign language.
“I’m more involved,” Aeris said. “I have more friends.”
The team said this might be their best year. One reason could be Aeris’ contagious smiles, Dier said.
“Our mood has lightened,” Dier said. “She keeps us in good moods. She’s got a great personality. ”
And some of Aeris’ team are even learning to sign so that she can always feel she has a voice.
“It’s a family,” said Aly Blevins, Aeris’ interpreter. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. It makes me want to cry with joy because they are wanting to communicate with her.”
Aeris said she is going to continue with cheerleading and she might even tack on some more extracurricular activities.
“I feel happy,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed with happiness.”