- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) - East Chicago Central High School senior Nataly Garcia may have been born with Down syndrome, but don’t tell her she has special needs. She is the newest junior varsity cheerleader on the sidelines leading the school spirit this basketball season.

“I have never seen anyone with such a pure spirit and love for their school and peers,” Tereka Boone, E.C. Central cheerleading head coach, told The Times in Munster (https://bit.ly/1uNjkNO ). “She radiates, and people gravitate to her. It’s really quite unbelievable.”

Garcia’s love for dance and cheer began at Franklin Elementary School, continued at Block Junior High and now makes her a cheerleading hit at Central.

“I just love to cheer and it’s fun and easy,” Garcia said. “The girls treat me so nice, and they are so pretty.”

Garcia decided in her senior year that she wanted to go out for the cheer squad, and when her mother asked a friend about it, her friend contacted Boone.



“I gave no promises but had no problem with her coming out as long as she gave it her all and was willing to learn and display the commitment it takes to be on this team,” Boone said.

“Boy, was I surprised. Her intensity and determination is second to none, and the girls absolutely love her energy.”

E.C. Central special needs director and former cheerleading coach Pam Cook said Garcia is “an inspiration” to all her peers and has a “great warmth.” Cook said many of her classmates urged Garcia to run for homecoming queen during football season and, not one for personal accolades, she finally decided to go for it after so much encouragement.

“They were so ecstatic and kids kept telling me, ‘She’s gonna win, Miss Cook, you wait and see,’” Cook said.

“She got second place and elected princess, but that was a moral victory for everyone. In all of my 32 years of teaching here, this is the first time that any special needs student has ever done something like this, and all of our students made me proud by showing their love and support.”

Garcia shares a special bond with her mother, Ofelia Jimenez, who said Nataly is “a real blessing.”

“Every day, she tells me I’m the best mother ever and it melts my heart,” Jimenez said.

“She is the real sunshine in our lives, and I hope her story inspires others because we are so proud, especially her father.”

Jimenez credits the special family bond Nataly has with her brother, Edgar, sister, Jacqueline, and father, Frederico Garcia, for her development and strong character.

“She knows that she could do anything and we are all right behind her,” Jimenez said.

“We are so very thankful for the school system, as well, for giving her the opportunity to feel proud to put on that uniform.”

In her spare time, Nataly Garcia helps younger special needs students at the Dance Connection in Hammond.

“I love kids and I love dance,” Garcia said. “I want to help them, because we are all special.”

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Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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