During this year's Summer Meeting Opening General Session, Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) Commissioner Paul Angelico will conduct the “Alumnus Interview” with Megan Bomgaars - who along with her Evergreen (Colorado) High School cheerleading coach Tammy Dufford were the first-ever recipients of the National High School Spirit of Sport Award in 2008.
The “Alumnus Interview” brings back a former Spirit of Sport Award or Heart of the Arts Award recipient for a live, on-stage conversation with the executive director of that particular state association. Its goals are to inform the audience members of the accomplishments that initially earned the recipient the award, but perhaps more importantly, to update them regarding some of the things that individual has accomplished since that time. A video depicting those events is shown during the interview.
As an incoming freshman at Evergreen High School, Bomgaars tried out for and made the cheerleading squad.
As the competitive part of the season approached, Bomgaars’ mother Kris said she would understand if Dufford withheld Megan from tournament events because it could affect the team’s chances of winning. Dufford and the rest of her team said that Megan was a member of the team and that meant every game and every tournament, so she continued with the team all the way to the state championship.
After placing third at the Jefferson County League meet and winning the small varsity division in regional competition, Evergreen finished 12th at the CHSAA State Spirit Championships and received the award for good sportsmanship. Megan was lifted to the top of the final formation to a thunderous standing ovation from the 8,000 in attendance at Denver Coliseum. While other cheerleaders with Down syndrome have participated in cheerleading at local Colorado schools, CHSAA officials said this was the first occurrence at the tournament level.
Prior to the Spirit of Sport Award video and award presentation at the 2008 NFHS Summer Meeting in Washington, D.C., eight uniformed members of the Evergreen High School cheerleading squad ran down the aisles to join their fellow squad member on stage, where they presented a cheer routine. Following the video and award presentation, they all posed for photos.
Today, Bomgaars is 22 years old who is a self-described “Entrepreneur and Self-Advocate.”
As part of that entrepreneurial component, Bomgaars has her own company called “Megology”(with its own Website) in which she markets unique one-of-a-kind, eco-chic hand-dyed products such as scarves, tote bags, t-shirts, leggings and neck ties.
Always open to sharing her life experiences with others, she has developed her skills as a public speaker and travels across the country giving keynote speeches and presentations on a number of topics.
In 2013, Bomgaars produced a video entitled “Don’t Limit Me,” in which she directs her message regarding inclusion and acceptance to teachers. In it, she exhorts educators to not limit individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities by thinking that they are incapable of learning in their classrooms and always need someone to help them. She asks that they not lower their expectations of those students based on any challenges they might face.
Rather, she asks that they be included in their circle of learning, and that the instructors teach them how to learn, how to act, and how to become independent. Not surprisingly, Bomgaars’ video has gone viral.
In addition, Bomgaars is a member of the cast of the A&E Network reality television series “Born This Way.” The program follows the lives of seven young adults with Down syndrome as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams and explore friendships and work - all while defying society’s expectations. The show also gives voice to their parents allowing them to talk about the joy their son or daughter brings to the family, and the challenges they face in helping them live as independently as possible.
In addition, Megan is a college student, a model and an artist who dreams of one day becoming a filmmaker and a producer. Related to the latter, “Born This Way” joins Megan and Kris as they follow their dream of moving permanently to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film production.
Last summer, Devon Adelman (also Down syndrome) and Bomgaars were honored at the “Beating the Odds Summit” at the White House. There, they met First Lady Michelle Obama and heard a presentation from President Barack Obama.
Bomgaars and Angelico aspire to convey to the audience Bomgaars’ story, which could be very accurately described as being “amazingly inspirational.”
“Speaking on behalf of the CHSAA and its 352 member high schools, I am very honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this year’s ‘Alumnus Interview’ with Megan Bomgaars, who was the first-ever recipient of the National High School Spirit of Sport Award in 2008,” Angelico said. “We were very proud of her then and we continue to be proud of her as we have closely followed her life and career since that time. I am confident that the Opening General Session audience will be impressed, entertained and inspired by this ambitious young lady who never ceases to amaze all of us!”
John Gillis is associate director of development of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and administrator of the National High School Heart of the Arts Award and the National High School Spirit of Sport Award programs.