The special-needs cheerleading squad that first captured the hearts of the Pleasant Valley High School cheerleaders, and eventually even Oprah Winfrey, now will be awarded $25,000 from Pepsi.
The Sparkle Effect, the umbrella group that oversees the Sparkles, will officially learn of the grant while its leaders appear on “Good Morning America” about
7:30 a.m. Monday on ABC-TV. The cash reward comes as part of Pepsi’s “Refresh Everything” contest, where people across the nation voted online in the hopes of winning dollars for their favorite charities.
“It’s very exciting,” said Sarah Cronk, co-founder of The Sparkle Effect and a Pleasant Valley junior. “It’s so surreal.”
Cronk said the money will be used to purchase uniforms for new squads as they form across the country. It also will go toward developing an online forum where all of the squads can be in constant communication with one another.
Cronk said she and The Sparkle Effect co-founder Sarah Herr, a Pleasant Valley senior, will fly out of the Quad-City International Airport on Sunday for New York City.
“This is going to be great, and the money is going to help so much,” Herr said. “We come back Monday, so it’s going to be a fast trip, but it’s going to be so much fun.”
The Sparkles have been enveloped in a swarm of publicity since the squad began about two years ago. The girls have been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and ABC’s “World News Tonight.”
The group’s first spin-off squad, The Stars, formed earlier this year at Davenport Central High School. More recently, North Scott High School and high schools in Colorado and the Chicago suburbs have shown an interest in developing squads.
The special-needs girls cheer right alongside the schools’ regular cheerleaders at sporting events. Parents of the girls have said the program has done wonders for their daughters’ self-esteem.
Cronk and Herr worked hard to get out the vote for the Pepsi contest. “We contacted everyone that we could possibly think of, including people we haven’t talked to in years and years,” Cronk said. “I think people are happy to come together for a good cause. People voted every day and really took ownership of this.”
It has been a particularly exciting week for the Sparkles. Last weekend, the squad won gold in cheerleading at the Special Olympics competition in Iowa City. They won gold last year, too, but did not have any challengers. This year, they cheered against two other squads.
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“It was really exciting,” Herr said of the games. “It was really intense, and the teams were really good.”
Herr said one of the girls wanted the group to win a silver medal because she thought those were prettier. “I said, ‘Bronze, silver and gold all are pretty, so whatever we get will be good.’”
Also this week, MTV contacted Cronk to let her know that she and the Sparkles will be featured on “America’s Best Dance Crew,” a popular show on the network. The show will be doing a special on teen volunteering, Cronk said.
A film crew from the show will be at Pleasant Valley High School on Thursday, and the Sparkles will perform during an assembly.
“We never expected this much recognition,” Cronk said “A lot of it doesn’t resonate until two months after the fact.”