Local athletes shine at Special Olympics
By Dana Delgado
LEANDER — The jubilant faces and unbridled excitement of countless athletes told the story at the Area 13 Special Olympics Track and Field Meet May 1-2 at Leander High School’s Bible Stadium.
In the stands, an appreciative and supportive crowd enthusiastically cheered each participant. While medals and ribbons were awarded to the special athletes during the competition, this meet was bigger than that. For each athlete, it was about being a part of a bigger community than their own and being involved in engaging interaction and authentic participation with their peers.
“I can’t tell you how touching this (Special Olympics) is to me,” said volunteer and Liberty Hill Independent School District Special Education Teacher of the ACCESS 18+ Program Marcy Brooks. “To watch them be on a team and participate in sports and get this experience – it’s indescribable. All the time and effort put forth by Coach (Christopher) Klepper and the volunteers have led to a valuable experience for our students.”
For the team from Liberty Hill, it was their official debut in Area 13 Special Olympics competition and comes only weeks after competing at the Round Rock Special Olympics Rotary Meet.
Under Coach Klepper, the Special Olympics Coordinator for LHISD, Liberty Hill led the myriad of teams from across the region in the traditional Parade of Athletes during the games’ Opening Ceremonies. Following the national anthem, the Special Olympics’ torch was lit and carried around the track before the games were officially declared open.
As the games unfolded, Coach Klepper, with a bit of restrained but nervous awe, watched his Liberty Hill athletes compete in their inaugural area meet. Three athletes participated on Friday and 10 competed on Saturday in a range of events.
Competing for Liberty Hill and their events were Bryan Mapel (Gold 100- meter run), Karla Henriquez (Gold 100- meter run and Gold Softball Throw), Jae Harris (Bronze 100-meter walk), and Ashley Combs (Gold Softball Throw) as well as teammates Will Askew (Silver Tennis Ball Throw), Andrew Rimann (Gold 50-meter walk), Mark Poole (Silver Mini Javelin), Tyler Hogan (Gold Softball Throw), Toby Knight (Gold Shot Put), Coty Derrow (Gold Softball Throw), Krissy Mook (Silver 25-meter walk), Carolina Rodriguez (Gold Tennis Ball Throw), and LM. (silver softball throw). For legal reasons, only initials were provided for athlete L.M.
Of the athletes participating from the LHISD ACCESS 18+ Program, the award yield included four gold medals, three silver medals and two bronze medals. They also were awarded one fourth place ribbon and two fifth place ribbons at the Area 13 Special Olympics’ Meet. This extended their overall count for the two meets to seven gold medals along with six silver and five bronze as well as boosting their ribbon count to two fourth places, three fifth and one six place.
“The Track Meet really met my expectations,” said Klepper, Liberty Hill’s first official Special Olympics coach and coordinator. “I was very happy with how we rallied together! And, as always, I was very impressed by the organization of Special Olympics and all the great volunteers! I couldn’t have done it without my team: Cho Law, Marcy Brooks, Jared Sudekum, Letty Eguia, Teresa Davis, Liberty Hill ISD bus drivers and monitors, and my numerous peer volunteers.”
Coach Klepper said that great strides had been made this first year of competition with participation, volunteers, and administrative and parental support.
Meghan Whitehead, a junior at LHISD where she is a member of the National Honor Society (NHS), struggled to find the words to describe her experience in working with the special athletes.
“Win or lose, they are smiling,” Ms. Whitehead said. “It’s so exciting for them to do something outside their realm. Only a few weeks ago, they were afraid of the starting gun and wouldn’t run. Now they love to run.”
Makayla Allman-Solis, another Liberty Hill NHS member and junior captain of the Color Guard as well as Special Olympics volunteer, has also witnessed the changes and growth of the athletes with their participation in the games.
Next year, the Liberty Hill Special Olympics program looks to expand its participation. Coach Klepper said that there are plans to participate in bowling, bocce and tennis and possibly other sports but added that there would be a need for more volunteers.
“I need to recruit some teachers as Special Olympics coaches, and encourage student opportunities for our mission of teamwork plus physical activity,” Klepper said. “Lastly, I’d like to add some UNIFIED Teams to our Track Meet and maybe a Unified Basketball team (50/50 teams of students with and without disabilities). I want Special Olympics in Liberty Hill to provide opportunities and a feeling of belonging.”