HOPE Week: Special needs cheerleaders

The Yankees might try an alternative for the YMCA break between the sixth and seventh innings at Yankee Stadium. How about some players coming on to the field and doing a cheerleaders routine, complete with pom-poms?

Several Yankees players proved adept at such an exercise Thursday when they surprised the Hunterdon Huskies Contender Cheerleaders at the Jawonio Center in New City, N.Y., as part of the club’s HOPE Week initiative.

Coached by instructor Debbie House and the girls themselves, pitchers Andrew Miller, Michael Pineda, Chasen Shreve and Chris Capuano, catcher John Ryan Murphy and third base coach Joe Espada showed off some deft moves in doing a few of the squad’s regular routines. The Yankees players were joined by the Prime Time Players — the wrestling duo of Darren Young and Titus O’Neil, who are the reigning WWE tag team champions.

Before the Yankees’ contingent arrived, the cheerleaders went through their paces in a practice session in front of relatives and friends that drew wild applause. The girls wanted to be letter perfect for their guests from the Bronx.

The idea of the Hunterdon Huskies Contender Cheerleaders was born in the mind of House five years ago as the result of watching a national cheerleading competition on television at her home in Clinton Township, N.J. House noticed that there were teams of special needs cheerleaders performing between the competitive routines.

Although she does not have a special needs child, House has a passion for helping children who must persevere through Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism and saw in cheerleading a potential outlet for local young girls in similar circumstances. She approached officials from the Hunterdon Huskies cheerleading program to gauge interest in creating their own special needs team. The organization welcomed the idea and decided to create a team for the following year with House serving as head coach.

There were six girls in the first year of the program that is based in High Bridge, N.J. More girls joined up over succeeding years and the current squad is an even dozen students of high-school age. The Contender Cheerleaders are one of five such squads within the Huskies organization, which also sponsors eight football teams, including one for special needs boys.

Each August, the Contender team begins its season with bi-weekly practices and performs at Huskies home football games at Union Forge Park. They will make a trip in December to the 2015 American Youth Cheer National Championships in Kissimmee, Fla.

Overcome with emotion at the appearance of the Yankees, House said, “I could never imagine anything better.”

Her cheerleaders surely feel the same way about her program.

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