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Developmentally disabled children given chance to cheer, play football

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The Disabled Persons Action Organization and the Greater Watertown Pop Warner League have teamed up to recruit developmentally disabled school-age children for challenger cheer and flag football teams.

Dorris A. Dinardi, the league’s cheer coordinator and coordinator of the challenger program, said the challenger team would be the first of its kind in the area.

“I’ve been trying to get it up and running for three or four years now,” she said. “It’s a lot more relaxed than regular Pop Warner. It’s more of an exhibition.”

There also are no tryouts. Any child who signs up is automatically on the team. Ms. Dinardi said a challenger cheer team should have at least five or six children, and a flag football team should have about 18 children.

“The level of activity is more dependent on the ability of the team,” she said. “There is no restrictions even if they feel they’re too disabled. It’s more to have a fun experience for them versus any competition.”

Jill M. Thorpe, DPAO waiver specialist, said inclusion in such sports will mean the world to the participants because either team will give them “a sense of belonging.”

“It’s teaching them teamwork, fun and to participate rather than just watching and being a bystander,” Mrs. Thorpe said. “It’s a place where they can feel comfortable.”

Ms. Dinardi said an information session on both teams will be held at 6 p.m. Friday at DPAO’s William J. McClusky Center, 633 Davidson St. Registration can be made through the first week of August by calling Ms. Dinardi at 796-1562 or sending her an email at dorris dinardi@hotmail.com.

Practices would begin Aug. 5, but locations have yet to be determined. Ms. Dinardi said if enough people sign up in or near Lewis County, practices or games could be held close to Lewis County and in Watertown.

Games are modeled after typical Pop Warner games, with warm-ups, a coin toss and the national anthem. Challenger cheer or dance teams also may perform an exhibition performance in the Pop Warner championships.

While such teams give developmentally disabled youth a chance to participate in sports, Mrs. Thorpe said, they will also give the community a chance to support such teams and cheer from the sidelines.

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