RANDLEMAN - A few distinctive features characterize Randleman High School football games: families, many times with small children, crowding the stands, the occasional yell or air horn that penetrates the typical hum of the night, and Skylar Abbott.
“She lives for the camera,” her older sister Alexis says, chuckling when she spots Skylar, a 17-year-old sophomore cheerleader, posing for the field photographer under the Friday night lights. Skylar is lively, playful, and noticeably more petite than her teammates. She has Down Syndrome.
Skylar’s favorite activities—outside of cheerleading—include listening to music, coloring, building with LEGOs, and “just creating,” according to her mother, Amelia Abbott. Abbott had tried her best to get Skylar involved with different sports, like soccer or gymnastics, to no avail.
When Jennifer Strickland suggested to the Randleman High cheer coaches Mindy Saunders and Hayley Hulin they should ask Skylar if she was interested in joining the team, a possibility never before considered became a reality. “Skylar has fallen in love with [cheerleading],” Amelia and Mike, her father, say.
Skylar made her cheerleading debut during the basketball season of her freshman year; her first game remains her favorite memory of her time so far. Since then, the Abbotts have been awestruck at the impact cheerleading has had on her. “The [others] cheerleaders and the coaches have always treated her with a special love and equality. Skylar has matured already into a disciplined athlete and made forever friends,” they say. “Each and every teammate [has] an amazing awareness and natural understanding that Skylar is no different than them.”
Before Friday, Oct. 21’s game against Trinity — Randleman’s “senior night” — Skylar was ready to go. When I asked Skylar if she was excited for the game, she simply said yes, her eyes darting to the stadium. It was evident she was eager to join her teammates so they could all run onto the field together.
But first, she needed to tuck her shirt into her skirt because of what Amelia suspects was a “sensory issue.” Once she reached the sidelines, she called up to Mike, who shuffled down the stands to put her headband on because she was cold. Most things do not go without a witty comment from Skylar, who Amelia says is “very independent.”
While Amelia recounts Skylar’s first basketball game going smoothly, she says that Skylar’s first football game was difficult; she was “not prepared” for the surplus of fans or startling sounds—but she acclimated. Amelia tells Skylar that the volume of these football games is the same as Skylar’s music through her earbuds, which she understands. Skylar wants to continue cheerleading throughout high school, although practices can sometimes be challenging.
She works on her favorite stunts, like a cartwheel or roundoff. What she enjoys most is “calling the cheer,” which consists of her shouting out a particular routine, which the rest of the team subsequently launches into. If she doesn’t know a cheer, “she’ll just shake her pom-poms,” Amelia says. Regardless, spectators can see dynamic conversations between Skylar and her teammates, who can be seen dancing with her, holding her hand, or posing in pictures alongside her. Randleman emerged victorious that night, with the team holding 70 points over Trinity’s 0.
This love is felt by many attendees, who exclaim “Skylar!” from all sides of the stands. “Everybody loves [her],” Amelia says earnestly, and it’s a statement that has proven to be true. The teenagers applaud when Skylar and a couple of her teammates move toward the two-row student section to perform a stunt. Her family exudes pride, beaming each time she smiles at them.
As for the future, Amelia names UNCG as a potential option for Skylar, who has expressed a desire to attend college. For now, though, she’ll keep being a shining star, an energizing force.
“We have to give thanks to the entirety of Randleman High School—the students, staff, and athletic department. They have treated Skylar so great,” the Abbotts say.