Outside the Huddle: Sipsey Valley cheerleader holds her own
By WVUA-23 Sports Reporter Grace Brister
Haley Rodriguez is one of every 1,200 people in the world diagnosed with Down syndrome, but she makes it clear that the genetic disorder does not define her. She is living out her dreams as a varsity cheerleader for her high school, Sipsey Valley.
Growing up, Haley watched her sister Megan cheer on the Sipsey Valley Middle School team. According to her mother Kim Rodriguez, this is where Haley got the inspiration to cheer.
“Haley would watch Megan. She’d learn the cheers,” said Rodriguez. “She’d do it in the stands and everybody would say, ‘Haley you need to be a cheerleader. You need to do that. You’re good at it. So do it.”
Throughout Haley’s life, she has accomplished plenty of inspirational activities. She competed in rhythmic gymnastics, which earned her the opportunity to cheer with the Alabama Special Olympics team.
Haley’s teacher at Sipsey Valley High School, Lisa Frostick, thought Haley should cheer for the school. When the idea was presented to her family, there was no doubt in their minds that Haley could do it.
Haley’s parents discussed this with the school’s cheerleading coaches, Briana Kidd and Rachel Gilbert, and they were on board with Haley trying out.
“They said absolutely Haley can try out,” Rodriguez said. “She just has to do exactly what everyone else would do, and she did. She would have to go to cheer clinic. She would have to do tryouts. We did all of that.”
Kidd made it clear that Haley was not given special treatment.
“Haley went through tryouts just like everybody else,” Kidd said. “Haley wasn’t given any kind of pass. She’s on the team because she made the team. Haley can stunt. She is probably the strongest on the team, physically strong.”
Haley’s parents had concerns for her safety. They expressed their concerns to the coaches. Together, they decided someone had to be at every practice, pep rally and game to have another set of eyes on Haley.
Haley’s grandmother, affectionately known as ‘Nana’, watches her at cheerleading events.
“If not for her, Haley would probably not be able to do half the things she does,” said Rodriguez.
Not only does Haley have her ‘Nana’ to support her, she also has her best friend Avery Watson cheering with her.
“I think it’s just a special connection between us,” Watson said. “She just feels connected towards me. She just feels like she needs to be with me. I love that and appreciate that.”
Watson said Haley has a great relationship with everyone at Sipsey Valley.
“Last week I watched her walk in the student section and cheer for us,” Watson said. “They just accepted her. They didn’t make room for her. They let her just be there.”
Haley’s mom said Haley has a special gift when it comes to recalling cheers.
“Her memorization skills, it shocks me because she can listen to a song two or three times and she knows the song by heart,” her mom said. “There may be something she doesn’t know, but if you watch her, she’ll look around and see what everyone else is doing, and she’ll pick it up.”
Haley hopes that through her experience, she can show others that you can do anything you set your mind to. Her parents said her Down syndrome does not define her. And by doing the things she does, she’s proving that every day.
“People will reach out to me and say, ‘hey we enjoy seeing her do this on Friday nights. She’s really good,” said Rodriguez. “It just warms my heart to see that. I’ve had mothers reach out to me and say, ‘hey how did you get her on the cheer team? What did you do?’ Don’t be scared to reach out. All they can say is no.”