Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog

Arlo Latenser Living His Dream at Keaau High

Keaau Cheer Squad

KEAAU – Think of the word ‘cheerleading’ and a dozen or more adjectives may come to mind.  This season, at Keaau High School, cheerleading has taken on an added term which is endearingly called ‘special.’

Making the Keaau Cheer Squad in the 2010-2011 Big Island Interscholastic Federation athletic season is a special person with an unique ability to bring out the best in everyone.

Arlo Latenser, a sophomore, is fulfilling his childhood dream of being a cheerleader for the Cougars.

Latenser, who has Down Syndrome, may be the first in the State to participate in Cheerleading on the varsity level of a Division I high school.

“Arlo first participated in a Cougar Cheer Clinic in April 2010 that we held for anyone interested in cheerleading,” Keaau Cheerleading Coach Tonya Baybayan said.

Latenser later tried out for the team in May and needed to follow the same process for selection as all the other participants and was given the same opportunities as everyone else trying out for the squad, according to Baybayan.

“I do not cut anyone but, rather gave each individual an opportunity to develop skills over summer practices,” she said.

The Keaau tryout process involves going through fundamental cheerleading skills, gymnastics and dance and each participant is given an oral interview in front of a panel of 5 to 6 judges.

Arlo working a football game with the cheer squad

“Arlo brought some of the judges to tears when he responded to the question of why he wanted to be a cheerleader,” Baybayan said.  “He honestly said that it was his dream to be a cheerleader.”

But the road for Latenser in fulfilling his dream has not been an easy one as his disability provides him with challenges of not being able to yell out and project all of the cheers clearly.

“Arlo makes up for his inability to perform in some areas with his smile and positive personality,” Baybayan said.

Initially the transition for the dozen girls on the team was not smooth when Latenser was first selected for the team.

“Some of the girls did not understand Arlo’s disability,” Baybayan said.  “We have always treated him the same as everyone without giving him any special treatment and the other team members now treat him like any other team member.”

Baybayan has been coaching the cheer squad at Keaau for the past five years and prior to that she was a Pop Warner coach with the Keaau Chiefs and Puna Titans.

The relationship forged between Baybayan and Latenser while both were at Keaau Middle School where Baybayan works as an educational assistant.

     “Arlo is well like at school and greets everyone with a smile or his famous shaka,” Baybayan said.  “I’ve noticed at various games that the referees always greet him and he always makes that effort to greet them too.”

One of the highlights of school for Latenser is being on the cheerleading squad where he practices regularly and even takes dance classes in order to help him keep up with the his teammates.

“I work with Arlo on the weekends,” Cougar senior Lindsay Sumner said.  “I met him during Polynesian Dance class and he is a very talented dancer with good coordination skills.”

Sumner, a former Keaau cheerleader, works with Latenser, one on one, over the weekends and has seen an enormous change in his skill  level.

“He has the enthusiasm for cheering and he brings it with him every day,”  Sumner said.  “He is happy about everything and he has overcome great challenges with his desire to improve.”

Latenser participated in the team bonding early in the season where everyone is expected to share things about themselves.

“When I first met Arlo I knew he would need extra help,” teammate Amber Hamada said.  “He was in my hula class last year and I knew he liked to dance.”

Hamada made an extra effort to take Latenser under her wing as she wanted to help him learn the cheers.

Assistant Cheer Coach Jamie Soli, who teaches gymnastics, echoed some of the same sentiments as the others on the team.

“He’s a pretty good student and he really enjoys doing it,” Soli said.  “This is my first time working with a special needs person and I was pleasantly surprised with his progress.  Arlo can now do cartwheels, and backward rolls are his favorite.”

“I love cheerleading,” Latenser said.  “My favorite cheer is DEFENSE and my hardest is OFFENSE.”

When asked what he thought about being the only boy on a 12 girl cheer squad Latenser said, “It’s okay by me to work with all girls.  They are like cousins to me and they always treat me nicely.”

 Arlo Latenser is a key, contributing member of his school and takes pride in bringing out the best in himself and his fellow classmates.

Everyone interviewed agreed that he brings with him to practice a high level of school pride, character and an enormous amount of Cougar spirit, all qualities of a great cheerleader.

And to the proud Latenser, he’s just living his dream.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Profiles | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments