Desiree Andrews, her father likes to say, has been a cheerleader in the game of life since birth. She made it official three years ago, when she donned a uniform and joined the squad at her middle school. Born with Down syndrome, though, she had been picked on most of her life.
Until three basketball players on her team had enough character, class and compassion to say “No more.”
Miles Rodriguez, Scooter Terrien and Chase Vazquez of Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wis., went into the stands of a game this past season when fans of the opposition teased Desiree about her cheerleading.
“I have always been able to sit right by her and could put a stop to it immediately,” said her father, Cliff. “On this occasion, however, due to an unusually high student turnout I was unable to do so.”
He didn’t need to. The trio also heard the taunts and during a timeout climbed into the stands.
“We walked off the court and went to the bullies and told them to stop because that’s not right to be mean to another person,” Miles said.
From a distance, Cliff was unsure what was happening.
“I was angry, angry at the fact that once again my daughter was confronted by others who felt it was OK to make fun of her,” he said. “When I realized what those young men did, however, my initial reaction was to break down and cry. This was the first time someone other than family came to her defense.”
Miles, Scooter and Chase remained Desiree’s defenders for the rest of the school year, escorting her through the halls to class. “It’s not fair when people get treated wrong because we’re all the same,” Scooter said. Lincoln Middle School also renamed the gym “D’s House,” in Desiree’s honor, to symbolize inclusion and the school’s ongoing commitment to stop bullying.
In one sense, the foursome has moved on, Miles and Scooter to one high school, Desiree and Chase to another. Chase continues to escort Desiree to class, and the four talk whenever they can. Desiree has a new cheerleader uniform and will again be on the sidelines.
In another sense, they remain intertwined, reluctantly earning national attention. Miles’ mother, Zuleyka, said the adulation has continued to the point that at times, the boys don’t necessarily want to talk about it.
“Miles said, ‘I don’t want anything else. I just did this to help her,’” Zuleyka said. “This isn’t about fame. It’s about doing the right thing.”
Which sounds like the simple thing to do. But not always the easy thing.
“Every day we are confronted with such terrible things people are willing to do to others,” Cliff said. “But something like this gives a glimmer of hope for things to change for the better.”