Special Olympics closes memorable year

The Liberty Hill relay team and their supporters enjoyed Saturday’s track meet. From left are Lauren Brooks, Elisha Garcia, Stephen Calabresi, Beth Williamson, Nathan Eubanks, Carley Maples, Elijah Shelton and Sam Shelton. (Courtesy Photo)

The Liberty Hill relay team and their supporters enjoyed Saturday’s track meet. From left are Lauren Brooks, Elisha Garcia, Stephen Calabresi, Beth Williamson, Nathan Eubanks, Carley Maples, Elijah Shelton and Sam Shelton. (Courtesy Photo)

By Dana Delgado

LEANDER — Under a bright sun at Leander High School’s Bible Stadium, a proud delegation of dedicated and exuberant Liberty Hill athletes capped an incredible year of Special Olympics competition with the Region 13 Track and Field Meet.

Liberty Hill Special Olympic teams, competing under the motto, “Have fun, work together, and Go Panthers,” also participated in bowling competition at the Dart Bowl Lanes and Highland Lanes in Austin in November, basketball individual and team skills in February and March in Round Rock and San Marcos respectively, and tennis individual skills in April at Balcones Country Club in Austin. LHISD athletes also participated in a tune-up track and field meet in Round Rock the first week of April in preparation for the Region 13 Meet.

One by one and at times in teams, 30 local athletes under the guidance of Liberty Hill ISD’s Christopher Klepper, demonstrated the skills they had been working on for weeks against a host of competitors from throughout central Texas. While promoted and staged as an athletic competition, the May 6-7 Special Olympics Track and Field Meet was a significant event, often life changing, for the athletes and those close to the competitors including family members, coaches and volunteers.

“I’ve learned to enjoy those moments and not to be too quick to move on to the next one,” said Klepper who was tasked as the coordinator last year by the school district and doubles as a coach. “It’s hard to see sometimes, to see when you’re so close, but watching families spend time together; watching families get excited about doing things together…getting excited about the future…Special Olympics has done that. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

Klepper said that he draws inspiration from his student-athletes.

“At the Track Meet, one of those students told me how happy he was to be there. On a regular basis, I wish I was more like him — happy, genuine, fearless, and in the moment.”

Athletes at the Track and Field Meet were eligible to participate in three events including one individual track event, one field event, and one relay.

Competing for Liberty Hill were Will Askew, Stephen Calabresi, Ashley Combs, Elisha Garcia, Kyla Gillespie, Hannah Eubanks, Naomi Eubanks and Nathan Eubanks. Also participating were Isabella Kadas, Bryan Mapel, Krissy Mook, Jimmie Munsinger, Thomas Oglin, Walker Raney and Andrew Rimann.

Other athletes competing under the LHISD banner were Cassidy Sandlin, Madison Schuessler, Marissa Schuessler, Elijah Shelton, Levi Strauss, and William Waldo.

The Liberty Hill contingent reeled in reeled in over 15 medals.

Besides the efforts and dedication of the athletes, Klepper said the support of parents and volunteers were the “keys to the success” of the year-long program.

Involved in supporting the program as volunteers were Marcy Brooks, Angela Meade, Kylie Marshall, Beth Williamson, Cindy Gatlin, Lauren Brooks, and Mary and Marissa Mapel. Also assisting were Cecilia and Jarek Naylor, Cho Law, Daniel Gann, Letty Eguia, Jordan, Maddi Engelhaupt, Carley Maples, Allie Nix, Justin Wood and Sam Shelton. Furthermore, Key Club members including Katie Kindle, Brooklynn Jones, Molly Meldau, Mia Pineda, Hailey Barrows, Savannah Stanley, Angelica Mena, and Kaylee provide essential support to the program.

With the Special Olympics season completed, Klepper looked ahead to the program’s needs and plans.

“We need more coaches to get sport certified with Special Olympics,” he said. “I’d like someone to take the bowling and basketball training, and take over a team so we can add new athletes and events. I’d like to start practicing Bocce, and maybe add a soccer team. We just need to keep reaching out to teachers and parents to promote Special Olympics activities.”

Individuals interested in supporting the Special Olympics program may contact Klepper at Liberty Hill High School.

This is the second year that Liberty Hill has fielded a unified team under the auspices of the school district. Previously, interested local athletes competed as unaffiliated athletes with limited support. The initiative to introduce Special Olympics into the school district was spearheaded by then new Special Education Director Elyse Tarlton who said she wanted to broaden the expanse of opportunities for special needs students and further enhance inclusiveness in the district.

She further said that participation impacts non-disabled individuals and the community-at-large by providing greater opportunities for understanding, cooperation and teamwork.