By Haley Stesiak
If you were to have attended a Friday night football game at Boulder Creek High School this past season, you would have found freshman Rylee Bricker lighting up the sideline with her infectious smile.
Rylee was born with Down syndrome. A few years later, she was diagnosed with autism and a severe hearing impairment.
“I was afraid that people wouldn’t accept her,” her mother, Lisa Bricker, said. “As each diagnosis came, with the hearing impairment and the autism, with each one you just kind of feel like what am I going to do now, how is it going to go.”
Rylee’s disabilities don’t inhibit her in any way. She joined the Diamond Canyon School cheer team halfway through sixth grade and when it came time for the move to high school, Lisa felt she had to see about joining the Boulder Creek team.
“Getting on the cheer team was very easy,” Lisa said. “I started to come and visit the high school in January and there was a competition at Boulder Creek in February. I was at the competition and I was talking to her eighth grade coach and I said, ‘I don’t know what should we do?’ and she said just let me talk to the coaches and see.”
Boulder Creek Spiritline head coach Melodie Brewer had already decided that Rylee would be on the performance team.
“We decided that we were going to start her off on a slower scale,” Brewer said. “Coming to practice maybe once a week, getting to know some of the girls, coming to some of the JV games…so she didn’t feel so overwhelmed, but we quickly found she enjoyed it so much more so we started upping that.”
When it came time to meet her new teammates, Lisa said the girls were “incredible.”
“Because of her autism and being severely hearing impaired it’s hard to talk to her, it’s hard for her to look into their eyes, and they accept it,” Lisa said. “Sometimes she comes and just doesn’t want to talk to anybody…they totally understand it and they leave her alone.”
Rylee is able to communicate with her teammates primarily through sign language. When the girls first found out about Rylee’s hearing impairment, they were eager to learn how to sign, Brewer said.
“Once the girls started to get to know her and realize that she was a full-fledged part of our team and she was going to be around and she wanted to communicate with them, they instantly wanted to communicate back,” Brewer said.
Sophomore Spiritline member Maddie Christianson has cheered with Rylee since seventh grade. Christianson said having someone like Rylee who has disabilities on the cheer team is something she wishes everyone could experience.
“We want to make sure that we communicate a lot with Rylee to make her feel included with all of us,” Christianson said. “A lot of us take it really seriously to communicate with her because we want her to feel special and a part of the team.”
The initiative the girls took to better communicate with Rylee and their constant willingness to learn more signing is amazing, Lisa said.
“It shows me their acceptance of her and just desiring to speak so that she can understand, which is very much thinking outside of the box, not something a typical teenage young woman would do,” Lisa said.
Rylee’s positive spirit is infectious. She’s always making life a little brighter, Lisa said.
“She loves to be silly, she loves to laugh, and she loves people,” Lisa said. “She does add a whole new dimension to life and if people don’t take the advantage and the opportunities to get to know her, or anybody else who has special needs, I think they’re really missing out.”