Joanna Petosa is an 8-year-old girl from Staten Island, whose passion in life has been her involvement in her school’s cheerleading squad. Petosa also happens to be autistic. Regardless of the fact that Petosa has no problem keeping up with the other girls, and has no struggle performing any of the stunts, the coach of the squad told Petosa’s mother that her daughter would hinder the progression of the team for the upcoming season.
The coach cited doubts about Petosa’s mental capabilities in performing the stunts as her reason for excluding Petosa from the team this year.
During the previous year, Petosa’s mother was under attack from other parents about how her daughter’s autism would affect the team. In response, she decided to hold her daughter back and keep her on the younger girl’s teams to appease the other parents and avoid problems. Now, Petosa’s mother is dreading having to break the news to her daughter because the coach is so concerned with victory.
A spokeswoman for the coach said that it was a matter of Petosa not making the cut after tryouts, and that her autism did not influence the coach’s decision. They have invited Petosa, along with a few other girls who did not make the team, to cheer at basketball games alongside the squad. They however cannot participate in tournaments.
The Director of Staten Island Catholic Charities, Joe Panepinto, was upset over hearing Petosa’s story. He had this to say: “It’s more about the journey than the destination, and if all you’re talking about is putting together a team that can win, then you’re not really in it for all the right reasons.”