A metro cheerleading squad made up of all special needs athletes has won their latest National Cheerleaders Association Special Needs title.
The team's name says it all. Empire Elite is the best.
"My thing is doing my, doing my cartwheels," team member Brandon said after wrapping up a midday practice on Wednesday.
Brandon and his teammates make-up an all-special-needs cheerleading squad. Some of them are now competing in their eighth season.
"I'm extremely proud of them," said Coach David Owens. "They get mad when they lose but really happy when they win."
And the squad has been doing a lot of winning lately.
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"It felt exciting," said team member Keegan, as she recalled the recent win in Dallas. "I mean we've done it a lot."
The 10-year-old wasn't exaggerating. Empire Elite boasts five NCA Special Needs Championships since 2009.
"It felt pretty amazing, because people from different teams were cheering us on a lot," Keegan said.
Each athlete has different abilities, so husband-and-wife coaches David and Kristin Owens design routines highlighting each performer's strength. A few brave athletes go air-born. Others tumble across the mat with cartwheels, back handsprings and summersaults.
Each synchronized move is important for the win, but the athletes say it's not all about the trophies.
"I started when I was four," said Keegan. "It's like a family because we always work together."
Coach Owens says that's the key, creating a sense of community for the athletes and their parents.
"Just seeing those transformations and how far all of them have come not only as athletes but as people is really, really cool," said Owens. "You always leave practice with a smile on your face with these kids."
Empire Elite is always looking for new athletes and spotters to join the squad.
Visit the Empire Elite Cheerleading and Tumbling Facebook page for more information.