NORTH HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– A special needs color group just began it’s performance season – a source of pride for participants and their support system. News 8 takes us to a rehearsal at ACES Mill Road School in North Haven in today’s Connecticut Families report.
There’s music, light dancing, flag work and precise moves with props. This is a performance by the Connecticut Tigers, an independent color guard program for performers with special needs.
“Our byline is, ‘Let’s turn disabilities into abilities,'” says director Erika Forte. “It’s a lot of enthusiasm, spirit.”
“When I was in high school, I was in the high school color guard program,” says her son, Brian, now the band’s choreographer.
“We went to the Winter Guard Championships in Dayton, Ohio in 2004 and saw a special needs guard perform,” explains Erika, of the group’s beginning. “My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘We can do this.'”
In 2005, the mother-son founded the program which has received support from ACES, a regional education service center.
“It’s fun to get to hang out with all my friends,” says participant Tim Koshak.
Performers work alongside buddies who donate their time, sharing their passion for the sport.
“While the buddy and the Tiger are working together they form this bond, this relationship,” says Erika.
Teamwork means camaraderie and commitment. Parents are filled pride as the audience sees people with special needs in a new way.
“I think they’re really moved. People get up and clap and they cry,” says Kelsey Morrissey, a buddy.
Showing-off their skills is a confidence boost for the Tigers whose smiles say it all….as they impress and inspire.
“One of the greatest feelings is turning around at the end of the performance and seeing their faces light up as they’re getting that standing ovation,” says Brian.
“They’re all hugging each other and high-fiving each other and it’s just such a lovely feeling,” says Erika.
The Connecticut Tigers Winter Guard performs six shows a year. See them March 31st at Jonathan Law High School in Milford.