October 27. 2013 9:47PM

Katie McQuaid's Scene in Manchester: Something to cheer about

Southern New Hampshire University may become the loudest place in the state when it hosts the New Hampshire Youth Football and Spirit Conference Cheerleading Competition this Saturday. And the noise may hit its peak sometime between 1:30 and 3 p.m. when the Bedford Jaguars' Adaptive Cheer Team is scheduled to hit the mat.

My longtime friend Lisa Villemaire is one of the coaches of this newly formed team for girls who want to cheer, but are limited physically and/or cognitively due to a disability. Villemaire recently shared a video with me of the adaptive team's first performance at the NHYFSC Season Premiere Cheerleading Competition earlier this month. I was overjoyed watching it, and can't imagine the thrill of being in the audience.

"At Season Premiere, the crowd went crazy for these girls. They celebrated every moment of the performance with them. When they finished their routine, everyone in the Bedford High School gymnasium gave them a standing ovation. Everyone cheered ... many cried," Villemaire wrote in an email.

The six adaptive cheerleaders are joined by eight "buddies" — members of the Bedford Jaguars 13U Large Blue/Advanced Team. In addition to their own grueling practice schedule, they have weekly practices with their adaptive teammates. Many of the buddies, including Villemaire's 13-year-old daughter, Hanna Paradis, have learned some basic sign language to help communicate with one of the girls on the team who is deaf and non-verbal.

"They are generous, dedicated young ladies," Villemaire wrote. "The girls have researched intellectual disabilities on-line and asked about strategies to keep their buddies focused and positive, even when they are trying something new that might be difficult."Michael Courtney said his daughter, Crystal Courtney, had always dreamed of being a cheerleader. The 17-year-old senior at Bedford High School suffers from a complex heart defect, traumatic brain injury and hemiparalysis resulting from a major stroke suffered early in life.

"Last year, she asked to be on the high school cheerleading team and they gladly welcomed her with open arms, but all she could do was watch. As a member of the Jaguars Adaptive Cheer Team, Crystal now gets to participate with her friends, along with her mainstream friends, cheering for her team on the field," Michael Courtney said. "Crystal tells us that it's the most exciting thing that has ever happened to her, and many of the other adaptive cheer team members share the same feeling."

As a special education teacher in Bedford and former varsity cheerleader at Alvirne High School in Hudson, Villemaire was the perfect candidate to take on this team. She said she was asked to coach by Bedford Jaguars' Spirit Coordinator Kate Spencer, who was named NHYFSC Cheer Coach of the Year in Division 13 and is mom to two mainstream members on the adaptive team, Emily and Megan Spencer. Cari Dudas, a Bedford High School senior and varsity cheerleader, helps out as assistant coach.

Villemaire said she is humbled to be a part of the team, and grateful to the support from all the parents.

"There are 14 girls on this team, not six. Every girl on this team is part of the team. They all help each other and learn from each other," Villemaire wrote. "If you look at any pictures from our games, practices, or competitions, you will see genuine friendship in the eyes of every one of these girls."

Villemaire said she and Spencer hope other towns in the NHYFSC program decide to start their own teams.

"One of the judges wrote 'INSPIRED' on the feedback form /score sheet. That is exactly how Kate and I feel every week at practice. We are so proud of every participant on this team, and we can only hope that this experience inspires others."

For more information about NHYFSC and Saturday's competition, visit nhyfsccheer.org.

Happy birthday, MYPN

I miss my days as a Manchester "young professional." I like to think I can still pass for "young," but my children keep amending my perception of "professional." Still, I appreciated the invite from Rob Smalley, Manchester Young Professionals Network's treasurer, to the organization's 9th birthday celebration at the newly renovated Manchester Country Club tomorrow night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. You may see me there trying to pass as a real professional, and hoping no one notices the Play-Doh stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

NH365.ORG Event of the Week

It's holiday craft fair season, and you can find many of them on NH365.ORG, including the Ho Ho Holidays Craft Fair this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to benefit Mount Saint Mary Academy at 2291 Elm St. Admission is free for this event featuring local crafters, food, and a visit with Santa. Visit wwwNH365.org for more craft fair fun


If you have an interesting item for Scene in Manchester, write to Scene@UnionLeader.com.