PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, December 7, 1941 — no matter your age, the day World War II crossed our borders is more than a date on our calendars; it’s a somber memorial to the 2,335 lives sacrificed to protect our freedom. For those fortunate enough to visit the official Pearl Harbor Memorial, the event and its costs weigh even heavier on their hearts and minds. Hawaii’s tropical paradise stands quietly at attention, paying its respect.
Each December 7, the National Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade begins its route on Kalakaua in Waikiki and is the official public event marking the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to pearlharborparade. org. High school band, choir, and cheer members from across America will perform in the parade, with many also participating in other tributes and salutes from December 4-9. Fayetteville Central High School’s cheerleading squad member Tuff Needham-Wallace will be among them. It’s an experience of a lifetime.
“It’s very important to me considering I’m the son of a veteran and the great-grandson of two World War II veterans, and now I get to go and perform at Pearl Harbor. This means a lot to my family and me,” said Needham-Wallace.
Needham-Wallace, who has Asperger Syndrome, discovered early on that competitive cheer was the perfect athletics for him. He was drawn to the sports’ big, exaggerated moves. The two-and-a-half-minute routines pack a lot of punch.
“I loved that I got to put people up in stunts, the big jumps, and all the excitement and energy.”
Joleen Norton, his mother, explained, “When he was going through the hardest part of his life, we’d just discovered he has Asperger’s. He’d played football and soccer, but those sports were way too physical, and he had too much sensory overload. Cheer completely brought him out of that. You’d never know Asperger’s was even a thing for him.”
Needham-Wallace was selected as a Varsity Spirit All-American when Fayetteville High School attended Universal Cheerleaders Camp at MTSU in July. Five members per camp team were allowed to try out for the honor, and only 12% of those made the team. His hard work and perseverance paid off. He was the only boy to try out at camp.
Norton said, “I believe being active and finding a sport he loved and thrived in is why this is happening for him. He’s gone from being unable to handle a full day at school to maintaining a 3.0 GPA. He has five hours of practice after school three days a week and doesn’t get home until 9:30 at night.”
“He wants to help other boys because he’s struggled so much with being bullied for being a male cheerleader. He wants them to know it’s okay. Letting other kids know that you can do this if you struggle with something like Asperger’s, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety, or anything. If it’s a sport you are truly passionate about- any sport really- with the right coaching, it’s definitely something that can help.” GN