DOWNEY—Downey High School’s competitive cheerleading team welcomed its first deaf student onto their squad. Fifteen year-old Iliana Delgado earned her spot, according to her coach, Leslie Patterson, because she worked hard and tried out “just like any other girl.” Only 27 had high enough scores to join the team.

Armed with her own smarts, an interpreter, and her lip reading when necessary, Iliana has proven herself to be a match for the other girls on her squad. While it is difficult for her to match the other girls’ rhythm since she cannot hear the music, Iliana has practiced even harder and relies on repetitive timing, as well as watching the other girls to pace herself.

“I feel good about myself,” Iliana signs. “Sometimes I feel a little frustrated because I struggle when I can’t hear something, but people encourage me and I keep going on.”

Her spotters, the young men and women who help cheerleaders accomplish an individual stunt or a team mount, give her a tap on the back when it is her turn to shine. When Iliana’s section is over, the cheerleaders twist their hands in the air, a cultural acknowledgement of deaf clapping.

Iliana’s goals are to be a good role model for other deaf teens and to prove that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. She is currently planning to try out next year for the varsity squad.