Cliff Andrews's heart has been thrashed so many times he's lost count.
He's the dad of 14-year-old Desiree, the Kenosha, Wisconsin cheerleader with Down syndrome who garnered national attention after three basketball players stood up to bullies ridiculing her from the bleachers. And he's witnessed kids making fun of his daughter since elementary school.
"I wish this was the first time Desiree was ever bullied by other kids, but unfortunately it isn't," Andrews says. "I've overheard her being called retard, fat, stupid, ugly -- cruel things -- going back to when she was in fourth grade. As a father, it's pretty hard to handle."
Since there's no manual for parental intervention on behalf of a special needs child, Andrews has had to wing it, dealing with each instance as it comes.
"Sometimes I've been able to ignore it, passing it off as kids just being kids," he says. "I don't look at it as their fault. I see it as their parents, how they've been raised. There were a few times back when kids were making fun of Desiree in elementary school that I stepped in and had fourth and fifth graders tell me to fuck off."
The most recent incident took place inside the Lincoln Middle School gym. Desiree, a member of the Knights' cheerleading squad, was near the baseline, freelance cheering in the style everyone has come to know and support.
In the middle of the game, three players -- Miles Rodriguez, Scooter Terrien, and Chase Vazquez -- left the court during a timeout to confront kids in the bleachers they'd seen ridiculing Desiree.
That act has put the spotlight on Desiree.
Cliff was sitting courtside when it happened. The bullies were fellow Lincoln students.
"She saw that I was upset," he says, "She walked over to me, put her hands around me and made me look at her face and said, 'Papa, it's okay. I still love them even if they don't like me.'"
Lincoln's gym was recently renamed "D's House" in Desiree's honor. Students now walk the halls of the middle school wearing "D's House" t-shirts. Reps from The Ellen DeGeneres Show have contacted the family.
"If there's anything I'd like people to take from this," says Cliff, "it's a lesson from Desiree. My daughter, who's got lots of her own challenges in her everyday life, loves unconditionally. Here's a young lady, even after kids have demeaned her, just can't dislike them. It's just not in her. I think we could all learn from that."
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