Jacque LeRette has taken hip-hop dance classes in Streator for the past 10 years, and now takes gymnastic classes in Ottawa.
But the seventh-grader at Northlawn Junior High School in Streator really loves cheerleading, so much so she taught herself a number of cheers this summer through watching videos online and practicing on her trampoline at home.
"I said, 'OK, this is the year you can try out,' " said Jacque's mother, Mary. "I was really nervous, but she's doing really well."
Jacque's perseverance paid off, as she was selected for the school's cheerleading squad this year. Jacque, who has Down syndrome, has become an integral member of the team.
"One of Jacque's teachers approached us and asked if there was something she could do on the team," said coach Colleen Heinz, who is assisted by her daughter, Meghan. "We thought maybe pom-poms ... When she tried out, she was just amazing and we knew we wanted her on the team. We haven't had her stunt yet — holding people up. She's able to do so much more than I ever expected, just because I didn't know her."
"She knows all the sidelines," Mary LeRette said. "She really wants to do stunts, but we're going to take it one step at a time."
Heinz said she has "heard rumors" Jacque spends her mornings before school practicing her cheers.
"She's so enthusiastic," Heinz said. "She uses her iPad and records the cheers and just absorbs it. She's quiet when she's learning stuff. It's not that she's uncooperative, but when she gets something, she's really enthusiastic."
At a team practice this week, Jacque did splits in the air and pumped her fists along with the rest of the girls, topped off with hugs from friend and team captain Addi Ramon, whom she says is her favorite part about being on the team.
"Addi has taken her under her wing," Heinz said. "She will do anything for Addi. The other girls are very accepting of her. We have a really good group of girls this year. They're very blended. I don't think she knew any of these girls before so that's a pretty good (accomplishment) right there."
As for Addi and the rest of the team, the admiration goes both ways.
"She fits like a glove pretty much," Addi said. "She comes into our conversations. She knows exactly what we're talking about. I honestly couldn't think of a better fit for our team than Jacque."
The squad's first official appearance is 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, for a sixth-grade boys game versus Ottawa at the Northlawn gym. It is scheduled the same time as parent-teacher conferences, so Mary and Heinz will not be able to attend.
"I don't know how she's going to do," Heinz said. "I know it's overwhelming. All the girls are nervous. So I'm curious how it will go. Her mom is also a teacher so she'll be at conferences, but her dad will be there."
Still, Jacque says she is "excited" about the first official performance and is sure "Mom is going to cry."
"Yeah," Mary responded. "I'm going to cry happy tears. It's just so heartwarming how they've welcomed her. They treat her like all the other girls. It melts my heart."