When a middle school cheerleader named Desiree Andrews was being heckled by people in the bleachers, the basketball players called a timeout and confronted the bullies, telling them to stand down.
Desiree Andrews, an eighth-grader with Down syndrome, is part of the Lady Knights’ cheerleading squad at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At a recent basketball game, she was performing with her team when people in the stands started shouting insults.
When they saw what was happening, the players on the court called a timeout and walked over to the bleachers to confront the bullies.
“The kids in the audience were picking on Dee, so we all stepped forward,” basketball player Chase Vazquez told the local television station TMJ4.
“One of the kids stepped up and said, ‘Don’t mess with her,’” said Brandon Morris, one of the basketball coaches. “Then all of the guys got together to show her support.”
One of the players who stood up to the bullies was Scooter Terrien, who reacted strongly to other kids picking on a girl with Down Syndrome.
“It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong because we’re all the same,” he said. “We’re all created the same. God made us the same way.”
Another player, Miles Rodriguez, explained his reaction to the heckling. “So when I heard they were talking about her like, it kind of like made me mad,” Rodriguez said.
Ever since the incident, the players have formed a sort of honor guard around young Desiree, walking her to class and making sure she is cared for. The attention she has received from the school jocks has elevated her to celebrity status with many of the other kids.
According to the girl’s father, Cliff Andrews, Desiree was inspired by the show “Glee,” which features a cheerleader with Down Syndrome. Cliff tried to thank the boys for their kindness to his daughter, but was too moved to speak.
“It’s been a godsend to us,” he said. “Those boys, I tried to talk to them in person, but I couldn’t keep the tears back.”
The team even started referring to the gym as “D’s House,” and the name caught on so well that Athletic Director Timothy Nieman decided to put up a banner with the gym’s new title.
The team dedicated the Knights’ last home game on March 9 to Desiree, with the boys chanting, “Whose house? Dee’s house!”
“The cheerleaders and the basketball players that I’ve been working with the last two years are some of the kindest and most supportive students that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Nieman said.
Ben Woods, who attends another local school but plays for Lincoln, said that the Desiree affair has benefitted everybody.
“I think it’s great because some people thought Lincoln was a bad school, that it had a bad reputation, and I think this helps people think differently about that.”
Desiree herself has no doubts. When asked how the gesture made her feel, she said: “It is sweet, kind, awesome, amazing.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome