A Bolton teacher is making sports history as her cheerleading squad with ‘special abilities’ represent England in the world championships in the USA.

The Team England Special Abilities Unified Pom Team will become the first ever young athletes with disabilities and some with no disabilities, from England, to compete in the International World Cheerleading Championships in Disney World Florida, USA, in April 2024

Rumworth School teacher Gina Stafford, 33, who lives in Bromley Cross, was appointed as the coach by the National Governing Body 'Sport Cheer England, to prepare the team for the team for the opportunity.

She noticed that there were not as many opportunities for those with disabilities or neurodiverse athletes in sports, and she wanted to change the narrative.

The Bolton News: Coach Gina Stafford with athlete Isla Latham who has a condition where she does not have a corpus collosumCoach Gina Stafford with athlete Isla Latham who has a condition where she does not have a corpus collosum (Image: Public)Read our top stories below:

She said: “I wanted representation nationally because it breaks my heart that athletes are working so hard, and that option wasn’t there for them.

“I have seen Team USA do it and thought why can’t we show other countries and set an example.

“My main drive has been to provide age-appropriate opportunities in sport for neurodiverse athletes that their neuro typical peers would be accessing.”

Gina hopes that this can show athletes that they can succeed even if they have additional needs.

When Isla Latham ,who has a condition where she does not have a corpus collosum, was born her family were told that she may never crawl, and now she is a part of the team.

The Bolton News: The corpus collosum is the part that connects both sides of the brain.

She added: “Hopefully this can set the precedent for other countries so they can see that it’s something they can do.”

It is part of a pilot programme in collaboration with Cheer England, and if the pilot turns out to be a success hopefully a team of neurodiverse athletes and those with additional needs will compete again.

Gina has been a teacher all together for 12 years, and currently teaches science in Bolton.

Half of her athletes with special needs are from Rumworth.

Gina has been a dancer since the age of 11, and she has competed in a number of World Championships, as well as being a coach for 15 years.

The Bolton News: The team have since set up a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/f/help-get-our-special-athletes-to-world-champs)  to try and raise as much money as possible to support the cost of the athletes and their chaperones.

Gina added: “With the competition being in Disney it’s very expensive.

“We also want to make sure that all the athletes look and feel like how a neuro typical team look like with their outfits, so the money will help with that too.”

Some of the disabilities that the athletes have include: ADHD, autism, learning difficulties and different chromosomal disorders.

Gina added: “Despite these perceived barriers, every athlete has given it their all on the dance floor in the past three years of competitions.”

The Bolton News: Gina says she wants to thank all the parents and families for believing in the opportunity.

She continued: “Some are new to the sport and have made sacrifices to take an athlete to America.”

The completely volunteer led team will also be supported by assistant coaches Zoe Gilpin, Abi Gilpin, and Olivia Barnett.

The Power House in Swinton have also provided a space for the cheerleaders to rehearse, completely free of charge.

Sport cheer England send around 190 athletes, staff, and entourage to the ICU World Cheerleading Championships each year

For more information follow their official Instagram page.

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