Local cheerleader with Down syndrome to be featured on Times Square billboard

Local cheerleader with Down syndrome to be featured on Times Square billboard

HICKORY, N.C. — The big personality of Hickory’s Marlee Kale is ready for the Big Apple.

Each year, the National Down Syndrome Society chooses 500 photos to be featured in its annual video presentation, which kicks off Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October.

This year, Marlee’s photo was among those chosen.

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“I’m going to eat popcorn,” she told Channel 9 sports anchor Matt Harris.

Marlee Kale and her father and mother.
Marlee Kale and her father and mother. (WSOC)

Marlee and her family will be watching a livestream of the video presentation in Times Square from their home in Hickory.

“It’s just such an honor for her picture to be chosen over so many,” said Marlee’s mom, Leanne Hoke. “It just puts it out there that she’s able to do what everyone else is able to do.”

The 17-year-old has helped bring joy to others through cheerleading for more than 10 years. She’s been cheering on the St. Stephens High School junior varsity team for the last two seasons.

Marlee Kale and her fellow cheerleaders at St. Stephens.
Marlee Kale and her fellow cheerleaders at St. Stephens. (WSOC)

“I think that she shows all of us that we can’t let anything stop us,” said Amanda Griffin, the varsity cheerleading coach at St. Stephens. “There shouldn’t be limitations that we put on ourselves or others.”

Over the years, Marlee’s family has supported and encouraged her to do anything she sets her mind to.

“As one of her doctors told me shortly after she was born, it’s like raising any other child, but her milestones might take longer.” Hoke said. “She has been an inspiration and brought so much joy to our family, her friends and anyone she’s around.”

In addition to cheerleading, Marlee is also a swimmer with Catawba County Special Olympics.

Marlee Kale participating in the Special Olympics.
Marlee Kale participating in the Special Olympics. (WSOC)

“She loves to bowl but we’re not on any teams,” Hoke told Channel 9.

The Times Square video presentation is designed to promote the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.

“Folks with Down syndrome or any special needs, they need to feel accepted,” Hoke said. “I think it’s so important to put that out there.”

Marlee’s mom is excited to see her daughter make an appearance in Times Square, and the overall message the video promotes.

“If you can accept everyone just the way that they are then this world would be so much better off,” Hoke said.

The Times Square video will be streamed worldwide on Sept. 12 on National Down Syndrome Society social media channels.

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