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Teen with Down syndrome finishes cheerleading after 4 years

(Sam Penrod, KSL TV)

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GUNNISON — It was a big weekend for a high school senior in Gunnison who cheered her last home game. Of course the school band, the fans and the cheerleaders help to add excitement to any high school basketball game, but at Gunnison Valley High School, JoAnna West often steals the show.

"I like to dance. I like it," West, who has Down syndrome, said.

West has been cheering at Gunnison Valley High School for the past four years — an opportunity that came as a coincidence.

"A uniform was available and Joanna started cheering," said a former teacher, Pat Jensen.

The extra small uniform was delivered to the school by mistake, but it fit West, and thanks to the encouragement of Jensen, now a retired teacher, West started cheering. She soon became a fan favorite.

"(The fans) love her. They think she is great and they clap for her when she goes out and dances for them," said fellow cheerleader Carlie Frederickson.

The rest of the cheerleading squad said they love having her with them as well.

"She is always in great spirits. She is hugging everyone and calling them her best friend," said cheerleader Myrissa Gossard.

West's mother, Connie West, said she couldn't be prouder as her daughter was honored in the last home game, knowing how it not only made high school exciting for JoAnna, but also changed her life.

"She knows everybody in the school and town I would say and hopefully it has benefited them as much as it has benefited her," Connie West said.

The cheer advisor believes West brought unity to the squad.

"She loves everybody and we love her," said cheer advisor Monica Jensen. "She is so fun to watch. Every cheer parent comes to watch their own daughter cheer but everyone else (who) is watching in that gym is watching Joanna during the school song and timeouts."

The final home game had an exciting finish with a one point victory at the foul line, and it gave West the chance to do her victory dance one last time.


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