Helena special-needs cheerleaders compete across Southeast
By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor
Few feelings are as profound for Helena resident Mary Chambliss than the ones she feels for the two-and-a-half minutes her son, Preston, is performing on the stage with his Helena-based cheerleading group, the Shining Diamonds.
“That’s my baby. When your kid is on that stage for those two-and-a-half minutes and everyone is cheering, there is just no other feeling like that,” Chambliss said. “It’s great for everyone to see what these kids can do.”
For the past few years, the Shining Diamonds – a cheerleading team composed of local special-needs individuals ranging in age from 4-31 – have been traveling to competitions throughout the Southeast to showcase their skills in front of a national audience.
The group puts in many hours of practice each week at the Alabama Cheer Center off Morgan Road in Bessemer, and is coached by Britten Blackburn.
Chambliss said the group gives its participants a chance to experience something they otherwise would not be able to, and helps the cheerleaders strengthen their teamwork and social skills.
“It’s great for the kids to hear people at the competitions chanting ‘Shining Diamonds,’” Chambliss said, noting the Shining Diamonds compete against other special-needs teams in the competitions.
The Shining Diamonds are planning to attend a competition in Birmingham on Jan. 19, a large competition in Atlanta on Feb. 14, a competition in New Orleans on Feb. 21 and a competition at Sandestin Resort in late March.
The string of competitions are placing a financial burden on the cheerleaders and their families, causing the group to reach out to the community for support.
“We all use our personal cars to go to the competitions, so our main expense is the hotel rooms for the kids,” Chambliss said, noting the group is looking to raise $1,000 to help offset the cost of traveling to the events.
As of Jan. 10, the group had raised about $325 toward the goal. To donate to the group, visit Gofundme.com/5hmks0, call Chambliss at 535-9656 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.