Armless, legless teen may sue for cheerleading spot

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

In most ways, Julia Sullivan is just like most 16-year-olds. The energetic teenager likes to hang out with friends, is a member of her school's marching band, and has always aspired to be a high school cheerleader.

Aurora high school student Julia Sullivan
Aurora high school student Julia Sullivan

It's that last part that gets a bit tough for the teenager, because she was born without any arms or legs. Amazingly, she didn't let that stop her from trying out for the Aurora (Neb.) High cheerleading squad. When she wasn't accepted on the team despite a spirited tryout, she and her parents felt that she had been discriminated against because of her handicap.

According to the Omaha News-Herald, Grand Isle Independent, Daily Mail (U.K.) and a handful of other sources, that perceived discrimination has led to a potential lawsuit on behalf of the Sullivan family, which is seeking to have Julia Sullivan installed as a member of the 2011 Aurora varsity cheerleading team. The family has pledged that she will cheer as energetically as any other member of the team, and even pledged to complete wheelchair spins to add emphasis to team routines.

Despite those pledges, Sullivan was rejected from the team because of a low score on the "jumps and kicks" category of her tryout. Needless to say, it would have been impossible for the teen to score high in those categories.

"For us, it's the basic principle," Julia Sullivan's father, Mike Sullivan, told the World-Herald. "Any handicapped child in Nebraska could be kept out of activities."

The dismissal from the cheerleading team also flies in the face of the younger Sullivan's prior accomplishments, in which she has demonstrably overcome her own disability. The 16-year-old reportedly took dance lessons for a full decade, teaching herself how to tap rhythms on the floor with her shoes on her upper appendages so she could dance in time with the class.

Similarly, the lengths to which she went to play the cymbal in the school's marching band were no less inspiring. To play while marching, Sullivan hung a cymbal from her wheelchair and moved her motorized chair with one limb while playing the percussion instrument with the other, with a cymbal mallet strapped on to her upper appendage.

Despite those accomplishments, Sullivan clearly felt her true calling was with cheerleading, due to both her positive outlook and her older sister, who was a cheerleader at Aurora.

It appears unlikely that Sullivan will find her way on to the Aurora squad for 2011, thanks to the Aurora Public School District's decision to side with the cheerleading coaches, who had turned down Sullivan based on a low "jumps and kicks" score.

That doesn't mean that the Sullivans will give up their legal fight yet, with the family considering a court challenge on the basis of a judging process that violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and other U.S. anti-discrimination laws.

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