Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
December 18, 2023 ·  4 min read

Bullies mocked cheerleader with Down Syndrome – basketball players stopped the game to step in for her

Despite the many campaigns against bullying, the problem still persists. However, one incident from 2015 became an inspiring anti-bullying story. In this case, there were no intervening parents or teachers; the kids themselves stood up for their classmates — and in the middle of a basketball game. As a cheerleader, Desiree Andrews stood by the court when some members of the audience began to taunt her for having Down syndrome. She tried to ignore them, but three basketball players did not. They stopped the game to confront the bullies. 

“You have these kids that were picking on her and it came to the attention of the team,” said Timothy Nieman, the school’s sports director. “The team as a whole has something to say about it. They came out and said, ‘Hey, she is here to support us. You guys need to cut it out.’

Brandon Morris, the boy’s seventh-grade coach at Lincoln Middle School in Wisconsin, said, “One of the kids stepped up and said, ‘Don’t mess with her.’”

Basketball Players Stop the Game to Confront Bullies

“When I heard they were talking about her, it kind of, like, made me mad,” said one of the players, Miles Rodriguez. “A couple of us went over there and we’re like, can you guys just stop? That’s not right.” He added that they also asked their sports director to talk to the people about not making fun of her. [1]

It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong because we’re all the same. We’re all created the same. G-d made us the same way,” said basketball player Scooter Terrien. [2]

Image Credit: Cliff Andrews

Since that incident, Desiree’s school renamed their gym “D’s House” after her. Additionally, the basketball players include a chant just for her in their game rituals and she’s involved with the introduction of the starting lineup. Plus, she never walks to class alone. These amazing boys didn’t just defend her then ignore her. They want to make sure that she never gets bullied again. “They have really stepped up, almost like they are big brothers to her,” coach David Tolefree said. “It’s good to see.”

She was happy that we had her side and that we had her back,” said one of the players, Scooter Terrien. “You can tell she was happy because she never took the smile off her face.

Desiree the Cheerleader

Cliff Andrews, Desiree’s father, explains that she became inspired to try out for cheerleading because of her favorite TV show Glee. “They have a character with Down syndrome who is a cheerleader. And she said, ‘If she can be a cheerleader, I can be a cheerleader.’

At the eventful basketball game, Andrews was also angry at the bullies. However, Desiree seemed more bothered that he was upset than at the bullies themselves. “She threw her hands around me and made me look at her face and said, ‘Papa, it’s OK. I still love them even if they don’t like me.‘” He added that Desiree loves unconditionally. 

The incident garnered much media coverage, from ABC to Fox News, from Today to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. And Desiree thrived with all of the attention. “Desiree has always been under the assumption … that she’s famous,” Andrews said. “So now her dream is coming true and she’s just on cloud nine. As her father, it is quite a feeling. [3]

She’s been on TV, she had a dedication ceremony and I’m getting thousands of emails on her behalf,” he said. “She’s absolutely loving it.”

You always have to stick up for kids that are bullied

Andrews is so grateful to the team who stood up for his daughter. He has thanked the three boys privately, but he asked the coach to relay his gratitude to the rest of the team. “He tried to get me back to the locker room and do it myself, but I’m not good at speaking in front of crowds,” he said. “Besides, I knew I would just break down — and I didn’t want to cry in front of all the boys.”

Despite their kind act, the Lincoln Knights basketball team knows that stopping bullying doesn’t happen after one protest. And they’re ready to keep fighting. “This is not a one-time thing,” said player Harice Hodges. “You always have to stick up for kids that are bullied. It’s the right thing to do.”

“People will say that kids look up to teachers,” Nieman said. “Well, I think in this case that many teachers are looking up to them.” [4]


  1. “Middle school athletes defend cheerleader with Down syndrome against bullies.Today. Eun Kyung Kim. March 13, 2015
  2. “A Cheerleader With Down Syndrome Was Bullied During A Game. The Athletes Then Did Something Amazing.” HuffPost. Dominique Mosbergen. December 6, 2017
  3. “Athletes Help Cheerleader With Down Syndrome Defy Bullies.” NPR. Bill Chapel. March 13, 2015
  4. “Wisconsin Basketball Players Name School Gym After Cheerleader With Down Syndrome.” ABC News. Nicole Pelletiere. March 12, 2015