BY WENDI REARDON PRICE
Clarkston News Sports Writer
Sophomore Makenzie Zacharias stays on the sidelines as the the Clarkston Varsity Football players exit the field after their Friday night games.
Each week it is the same as she isn’t quite ready to leave the track – she loves cheering for her team.
“She is usually telling her parents she doesn’t want to leave the track,” shared Sydney Hubert-McLennan and Becca Winkler, her Clarkston Varsity Cheerleading teammates.
Zacharias is 16-years-old with Down Syndrome and began cheerleading last year.
“Kenzie has proven to many people nothing is impossible,” said her mom, Kelly.
It began with Kenzie and her dad, Joe, volunteering as water managers for the football team.
“I knew when she was going to high school I wanted to get her involved in something because she really loves being part of the group,” said Joe.
He added Kenzie would be filling water bottles and watching the cheerleaders. She would mimic their moves.
When the team played at Troy Athens last season Joe asked the team captain Elizabeth VanHeulan, to watch her for a moment.
“Every since then, they didn’t let her go,” he said. “She was a cheerleader from that point on.”
“Kenzie was seen being lifted by the varsity cheerleaders in front of the crowd and was well-received,” added Kelly. “It led to Kenzie participating the rest of the season with the squad.”
Kelly added the entire team embraced Kenzie and VanHeulen had Kenzie at her side all season and gave her cheer box to her.
Kenzie ended the 2017 season cheering at Ford Field while the Wolves won the state championship and receiving her manager varsity letter at the cheer banquet. She proudly wears it on her jacket.
“It was another moment Kenzie and all in attendance were touched by,” Kelly added. “It will be a special part of her wardrobe beyond 2021.”
Joe and Kelly added everyone in the community embraced Kenzie.
“Her experience lasted months, not moments,” Kelly said. “It can be attributed to the C-Town community that embraced a young lady for her abilities instead of disabilities.”
“It doesn’t work if there is a little bit of negativity,” Joe said. “She loves the girls and being part of the group. The girls are wonderful and fantastic. It doesn’t work unless all of them accept her and they really have. Kids today are just so accepting. Everyone has been so great. We are blessed and we love it.”
Kelly and Joe were concerned when the head coach for varsity cheerleading stepped down and a new coach, Ashli Domsic took over the position in June.
“Kenzie’s teacher, Tara Marchand agreed to contact Ashli on our behalf to share Kenzie’s story and how important participating with the cheerleaders is for Kenzie and the community as well,” Kelly shared. “Ashli asked Kenzie to attend the informational cheerleading meeting in June and was receptive to her returning. As soon as Kenzie entered the room, she received a warm welcome from the cheerleaders in the room which was so touching to watch. Alisa Sherwood, the Varsity Cheer Mom welcomed us and indicated she had also contacted Coach Ashli and hoped Kenzie would return.”
Now Kenzie is in her sophomore year which kicked with the Wolves opening the season at University of Michigan’s Big House.
“It was neat she got that experience,” Joe smiled. “I think we got more of a kick out of it.”
Kenzie has her own cheer box this season and each cheerleader takes a turn helping her on and off of her box, helps her with her poms and leads to her positions throughout the night.
“Kenzie attempts everything the cheerleaders do, minus stunts,” Kelly said. “She isn’t always on beat and doesn’t know all the words – she doesn’t care, and no one else seems to either. Kenzie’s absolute favorite is being lifted by her squad and cheering in front of the Jungle (student section). The roar lights Kenzie up and she often encourages the squad to do it again. She has gone from the young girl who couldn’t tolerate to be in a pep rally or an auditorium with any loud noises. Now this.
“With the help and guidance of the Clarkston Varsity Cheerleaders and coach, student body, administration and community Kenzie will forever cheer for the Blue and Gold,” Kelly added.
“This is her world,” Joe smiled, watching Kenzie practice with her teammates before the Homecoming game last Thursday.