By JUDY SHERARD
The Hays Recreation Center gyms were brimming with spirit last week as cheerleading teams displayed their skills at the Special Olympics Kansas basketball and cheerleading tournament.
The 23 cheerleaders representing the Arc of Central Plains Buffalos were no exception. Even Mary Lou Boese, 69, the oldest cheerleader to compete at the tournament, didn't lack enthusiasm.
Like the other cheerleaders, she wore blue and gold ribbons in her hair and pom-poms tied to her shoe laces. They matched the blue and white uniforms with "Buffalos" stitched in gold letters. The males in the group wore pants instead of skirts and carried small megaphones rather than pom-poms.
The team, coached by Chelsea Greenough and Morgan Wise, has been practicing once a week for a couple of months. Greenough and Wise were Fort Hays State University cheerleaders last year as freshmen and said they enjoyed coaching the team.
Besides pitching in to help her friend Chelsea, Wise has a personal reason for being involved in the Special Olympics.
"My aunt has cerebral palsy," Wise said. "She competed, and I saw how great an opportunity it was for her."
Boese was the team elder, and Debbie Handle's two daughters, Abby, 11, and Sierra, 8, were the youngest.
This was Sierra's first year competing and Abby's second, Debbie Handle said. The sisters even performed cartwheels and splits to conclude the team's performance.
The event is about more than medals, though.
"It increases their self-esteem and gives them positive self-esteem," Debbie Handle said of the event. "They get to make new friends."
Christina Cline, 34, has been cheering for the Buffalos for several years, her father, Craig Cline, said. Since he couldn't be at the opening ceremonies Thursday night, he came to wish her luck at the cheer competition. Her mother, Susan Legleiter, also was there to provide motivation.
"It gives her a challenge, something to work for," Craig Cline said of his daughter.
"You were super loud," Greenough told the team as they gathered around her after the preliminary round.
The team placed second of 12 teams in the competition.
Besides the cheerleading team, the Hays Arc entered two participants in individual skills and six basketball teams, one of them Hays High School students, Beth Pfeifer, Arc director, said.
Other area teams competing were Solomon Valley ARC Larks, Russell Roughriders and Northwest Winds.
Scheduled events ended with lunch Saturday and were held at HRC, Fort Hays State University and Hays High School. Team awards were presented after a team's final game.