Sunday, January 19, 2014

Windham girl achieves cheering dream - By Elizabeth Richards

Making the varsity cheerleading squad can be a tough feat for anyone. For Becca Keenan, it might have seemed like an impossible dream, but with support from the team captain, coach and other students at Windham High School, Keenan’s dream came true in her senior year.

Keenan, who was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 23 months, had talked about wanting to be a cheerleader since ninth grade, when she had friends who were on the cheerleading squad, said her father, Randy Keenan. “She’s always said she wanted to be a cheerleader, but she’s not one to follow through,” said Randy, adding that he and his wife also didn’t follow through because they didn’t know how serious she was. But the topic kept coming up, and this winter, Becca received the encouragement she needed to go for it.

Coach Jamie Gaudreau said that Becca told her last year that wanted to cheer. She was friends with a senior on the squad, but was fearful of trying out, afraid she wouldn’t be able to do the routines. This fall Becca again told Gaudreau that she wanted to be a “cheer girl.” At that time, Gaudreau said, she told Becca that she’d love to have her and encouraged her to try out.
Allyson Tibbitts, captain of the squad, said that she was in the cafeteria in the fall when Becca approached her and said she wanted to cheer in the winter. Tibbitts remembered that, and wanted to be sure Becca knew when tryouts were, so she left her a note inviting her to be at the tryouts. 

“It was the push she needed to move forward,” said Randy, adding that Tibbitts also picks up Becca and drops her off after practice. “She’s been a great peer. It’s been unreal,” he said.    
This type of group activity is a new experience for Becca, said her mother Kim Keenan. “Being a part of a team and being accepted by her peers is huge,” said Kim. “She’s never participated in a sport before, and never been part of a group with her typical peers before. That’s what makes it special.” 

While the Keenans said Becca has always been social and felt accepted by her peers, she didn’t socialize outside of school time until becoming a cheerleader. Now, she has attended a Christmas party and goes out with the other kids. “For the past few years she didn’t socialize out of school, it just wasn’t there. Now it seems to be coming to the forefront, and it’s a good thing for her,” said Randy.

Kim said cheering has helped Becca’s self-confidence, among other things. Gaudreau has also noticed a change in Becca’s confidence. “She’s been a total inspiration for myself as a coach and I think for a lot of the kids,” she said. Initially, Becca was reluctant to try things like jumps and tumbling, but now she will try it all, and doesn’t need to be asked twice to do something, said Gaudreau. 

 She even helps the coach base a stunt with Tibbitts. While Becca cheers at the games, she doesn’t typically compete. But during a charitable competition for Cheers from the Heart, she will be on the competition floor with her team. The score in that competition isn’t important to Gaudreau. “To me it doesn’t matter if you’re going to lose. To me winning is being able to have her there on the competition floor,” said Gaudreau. “I will take the zero in jumps just to have the ten for myself as a coach, for her, for Allyson, for everybody else just to have her on that mat. That means more to me and I think it’s going to be a nice reward for her as well,” she added. 

Tibbitts agreed. “It’s not like we only have one competition. We have other ones, and I’d rather have her on there than not,” she said.

Gaudreau said she doesn’t treat Becca any differently than anyone else. She expects the same work out of Becca as the rest of the team, and though sometimes she needs some encouragement, she said, Becca steps up and does what she needs to do. “She is the core of the team,” said Gaudreau. “She is what a cheerleader truly represents to me.” Gaudreau added that Becca brings new light to the program, and she wishes she’d had her on the team for more than just this one season. 

Tibbits said, “She’s like our own team’s cheerleader.” When the team is practicing stunts, she said, Becca is there with encouraging words. Her personality and determination to get out there and do it has inspired the team. “She’s truly made us better,” said Tibbits. “Everyone loves her.”

Randy said, “To us, the kids in this community are just unbelievable.” They have helped Becca have an experience she might otherwise never have had, and one that is the highlight of her senior year. “She was just so excited that she was actually going to be a Windham cheerleader,” Randy said. 

Becca, though reluctant to talk, said enthusiastically, “I love being a cheerleader a lot.”


  1. Kimberley Robinson WashburnJanuary 19, 2014 at 6:19 PM

    Becca is an amazing young woman. I believe her peers on the team are truly benefitting from knowing Becca just as much as Becca is benefitting from her interaction with them. What a smart coach, captain, and team! -- clearly being role models for the entire community!


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