SETH — A Racine girl is closing out a historic journey through six years of junior and senior high cheerleading at Sherman High School.
Rachel Harless, 18, has been described as a joy, a best friend and a special child by teachers, family and friends at Sherman. Most of all, folks agree that Harless is an inspiration to everyone her life touches.
Diagnosed with mild-to-moderate Down’s Syndrome, Harless became a cheerleader as a seventh grader at Sherman Junior High in 2007. She has cheered on the Tide during every season since, culminating with her senior year in 2012-13 at Sherman Senior High.
Her mother, Sabrina, said Rachel chose to cheer for football and basketball games during her years of service. “Basketball is my favorite sport,” she told a reporter last week as she prepared for the team’s final home game. A large crowd turned out to honor the only senior member of the Tide cheering squad. In addition to the usual senior accolades, a banner hung on the gymnasium wall honoring her and WOWK-TV13 featured her on their Wednesday newscasts,
When the rising senior began her cheering career, she told The Coal Valley News she was less concerned about her ground-breaking intentions and more focused on perfecting her cheers and practicing her toe touches. Sherman fans universally agree that she has achieved her goals and has been one of the top mascots in the region and state.
During her cheering efforts, Harless has had the complete support of her teachers, family and friends.
“I wanted her to do it,” said mother Sabrina. “I felt it would help develop social skills and it certainly has done that. We’re all very proud of her.”
Sherman teacher Kendalyn Mann, who has coached Harless and her teammates, said she worked with special needs students for about 30 years, She said Harless is the first and thusfar only special needs cheerleader in Boone school history. She said she has worked with Harless since she was three years old.
Her father Tim, who operates an insurance agency, is looking forward to Rachel serving as his office manager after she graduates in the spring. But before that happens, his daughter and family planned to be in Beckley this week as Rachel’s favorite team continues its post-season run in Class A.
Brittany Brewer, a fellow student with Rachel since kindergarten, said, “She just has a way of making everyone feel happy.”
Her father summed up his life with Rachel simply, “They say God will give special people a special child,” he said. “I don’t have any idea why we’d be special, but I do know Rachel is a special blessing we received,”
Cathy Chapman, another fellow student, described Harless as a “joy. Every day she yells ‘hello’ at me and I tell her she’s my best friend.”
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 21st chromosome, according to wikipedia.com. It is named after John Langdon Down, the British doctor who described it in 1866.