Desiree Andrews was well-loved by her school community – in particular, by some of the players for whom she cheered on the basketball team. And in 2015 three of her fellow students proved just how much they valued her. How? Well, when they heard her being heckled from the bleachers during a game, they swiftly came to her defense.
Andrews herself lives in Wisconsin and has Down syndrome, but she’s not let her disability hold her back. Indeed, she ultimately became a cheerleader for her middle school’s basketball team; starting in 2014, the teenager was also introduced to the crowd before the start of every game.
Andrews had been convinced to get into the sport after watching Glee. The popular TV show features a character called Becky Jackson, who also has Down syndrome and happens to be a cheerleader. So Andrews figured she’d give cheering a go herself.
And following her cheerleading debut, Andrews became a regular fixture on the court before basketball games. Her energy won her fans, too – not least among certain of the players. Miles Rodriguez, for instance, appreciated Andrews’ presence at those middle school match-ups.
Speaking to Fox & Friends in 2015, Rodriguez explained, “It gives you a boost of energy. Knowing [Andrews is] around, you get your school work done faster so you can see her. When you see her, you’re like, ‘Let’s just win the game.’ She’s just there for a boost of energy.”
What’s more, a number of students at Lincoln Middle School appreciated Andrews’ uniqueness. Rodriguez’s teammate Harice Hodges certainly did, as he explained to Fox & Friends, “[Andrews is] one of a kind. You don’t see a lot of cheerleaders with Down syndrome.”
Needless to say, then, Andrews had her own cheerleaders among the school’s basketball team. And so, when some players heard their classmate being cruelly bullied from the stands, they decided to suspend their game and leap to Andrews’ defense.
Explaining to Milwaukee-based NBC affiliate WTMJ what had happened, Rodriguez said, “When I heard [the bullies] were talking about [Andrews], it kind of, like, made me mad.” As a result he and two others, Chase Vazquez and Scooter Terrien, decided to confront the mean-spirited individuals themselves.
Describing what went down next, Rodriguez continued, “A couple of us went over there and were like, ‘Can you guys just stop? That’s not right.” And after being so publicly shamed, Andrews’ teasers then backed down.
Meanwhile, in his interview with WTMJ, Terrien would reveal why the incident had touched such a nerve. He remarked, “It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong, because we’re all the same. We’re all created the same. God made us the same way.”
But while Andrews’ bullying experience had upset some of her classmates, the cheerleader herself was able to brush her taunters’ cruel remarks off. Following the incident, the youngster confided in her father – and what she said was utterly beautiful.
Revealing his daughter’s words to Today in 2015, Andrews’ dad explained, “She threw her arms around me, gave me a big hug and told me, ‘Papa, it’s okay. I still love them, even if they don’t like me.’” He added, “She’s good with it. Desiree loves unconditionally.”
Still, even though Andrews herself seemed to take the bullying in good stead, the boys who had stood up for her were more incensed at what they had heard. “We were mad; we didn’t like that,” Rodriguez would go on to tell the Kenosha News. “We asked our sports director to talk to the people and tell them not to make fun of her.”
And the school’s athletic director, Tim Nieman, was proud that the three young men had taken a stand. He also appreciated the fact that the other cheerleaders had welcomed Desiree on board. “It truly does take a village to do great things,” Nieman would say to Fox & Friends.
Furthermore, it didn’t take long for news of Andrews’ heroes’ bold actions to spread. In fact, Lincoln Middle School would go on to make headlines around the globe, thanks to the myriad of media coverage on the heartwarming gesture. The players who had leapt to Andrews’ rescue were also nominated for citizenship awards from the city of Kenosha.
But that wasn’t all for Rodriguez, Vazquez and Terrien, as the three basketball players that defended Andrews were given a Musial Award in 2015. The coveted prize celebrates outstanding sportsmanship and is named in honor of late St. Louis Cardinals star Stan Musial.
But perhaps nobody enjoyed the influx of attention more than Andrews herself. Speaking to Today, her dad revealed that Andrews had liked to tell her friends that she was “famous” because she had her very own assistant in class.
Andrews’ father added, “Well, now [Andrews is] on cloud nine because she really is famous. She’s been on TV, she had a dedication ceremony, and I’m getting thousands of emails on her behalf. She’s absolutely loving it.”
And just like Rodriguez, Vazquez and Terrien, Andrews would go on to receive her own honor. After news of the basketball players’ exploits had got out, the Lincoln Middle School gym was renamed “D’s House” by way of tribute to the cheerleader.
In addition, the school as a whole rallied around Andrews to let her know how special she is. “The cheerleaders and everybody there all help keep an eye on her throughout the day,” Andrews’ father told Today. He added, “The students at Lincoln Middle School have just been phenomenal.”