‘Special Forces’ cheer program focuses on military sacrifice, special needs children

To say Donna Rogers has a heart of gold would be a huge understatement.

The director of the local All-Star Legacy cheer and dance school in Front Royal and her staff not only provide a structured environment to motivate and instruct their students to achieve their fullest potential as part of a team, but to also instill core life values, dedication and a pay-it-forward attitude.

All-Star Legacy last year began its Special Forces program that honors the sacrifices the military has made to grant all citizens their freedom. They also open their doors to special needs individuals that would like to take part in their cheer and dance programs.

“The name of our senior team each season is ‘Freedom’, as it came from knowing that freedom isn’t free, it was paid for with someones blood,” Rogers said. “I want the athletes to really absorb that and in the process of understanding this.

“Our team ‘Special Forces’ started, and we want to reach out our community and let them know, as did Uncle Sam, ‘We want you’ — any athlete with special abilities and or needs, we invite to be a part.”

The Special Forces program is free to any special needs child in the area that wants to have the experience of being part of a cheer team, including practicing and going to events.

The Special Forces program is designed for male and female athletes between the ages of 8-22.

Last year, Georgie Hyers became Front Royal All-Star Legacy’s first special needs participant and Rogers said the experience was awesome for everyone that was involved.

“I will never forget the feeling my heart felt when shortly after Georgie started attending weekly classes,”Rogers said. “And seeing the smiles and laughter on her face and looking at her mother standing there watching her and tears flowing.”

Georgie’s mom, Davina Hyers told Rogers how much the whole experience meant to her and her daughter, saying, “No one has ever done anything like this for my daughter, and to see her being treated as others just brings joy words cannot express.”

Rogers said the whole season with Georgie was filled with tears of joy by all involved.

“Watching the young ladies take the floor and watching it be all about Georgie,” Rogers said. “We here at All-Star Legacy want to make sure the community knows we want all interested to come.”

Kathy Shenk, a coach for All-Star Legacy’s Special Forces team, noted how extraordinary the whole experience of working with Georgie was last year.

“The love Georgie has for cheerleading is in every picture you see of her,” Shenk said. “Either in the gym or in competition. I believe every child needs to be given a chance to find what is right for them and she definitely found it in cheerleading.”

This year All-Star Legacy has a new special needs child in camp, 6-year-old Addison Higgins.

Higgins is on the All-Star Legacy’s Itty Bittyz team and has been a hit with everyone in the school.

“Our gym was full on Sunday while Addison was on the floor with our kids,” Rogers said. “You could of heard a pin drop when she stunted, holding another teammate in the air and flying the stunt. The gym went crazy.”

Addison’s mom, Amanda Thompson, was moved by her daughter’s performance.

“I am excited,” she said. “Just know- ing that someone cares enough about my daughter with Down syndrome. She gets so excited when we just pull up to the door and knowing where we are. I feel blessed knowing All-Star Legacy has included my daughter in the Itty Bittyz team as any normal child, versus acting as if she isn’t normal. They welcome Addison with open arms and patience.”

Dawn Marshall, grandmother of Addison echoed her daughters sentiments.

“Addison loves coming to cheer,” she said. “For the rest of the day she is do- ing what she learned. And for Donna, she is the most devote coach. The love and time that she devotes to the kids are incredible. You treat each child special in their own way Like they are the only child that matters.”

Rogers wants to get the word out to the public that all special needs children are welcome to attend the school for free.

“We wish we could do this for all of the kids in the Front Royal, Warren County area, but unfortunately we can’t,” Rogers said. “But to help try to allow anyone to attend our gym we have many new programs starting at extremely reasonable rates and we will continue to work fundraisers to ‘pay if forward.’”

Rogers says the 30-plus members of the school tirelessly work fundraisers throughout the year to not only help pay for the school, but to help others less fortunate to attend as well.

“With no complaints, these young boys and girls work weekend after weekend throughout the summer to raise money to both help themselves, but more than anything to pay it forward,” Rogers said. “It’s hot and it’s hard, but they will wash cars and sell baked goods at our local merchants such as Wal-Mart, Advance Auto, Southern States and Rural King.”

Rogers said it’s all about being part of the community.

Her goal at All-Star Legacy is to not only teach her students cheer and dance skills, but to also teach them to be responsible and giving adults.

“We want to give, give, give,” Rogers said. “Our hope is to reach out and bond with the community, be it to feed the hungry, stock the food shelves, work in a soup kitchen, collect needed school supplies, arrange a coat drive, adopt families for the holidays, or even care packages to our soldiers. We all at Front Royal All-Star Legacy look forward to doing these things and make it a part of who and what we are.”

All-Star Legacy is a non-profit organization that began 15 years ago in Ashburn by Trisha Hart and Kyle Grussmeyer.

Besides Ashburn and Front Royal, All-Star Legacy is also located in Manassas. More information about All-Star Legacy and all of their programs can be found at www.

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