When Bernie, the mascot for the Colorado Avalanche, walked into the gymnasium at the Gold Crown Field House on a recent morning, students athletes in the Jeffco Schools adaptive athletics program got excited.
High fives, hugs and fist bumps …
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High fives, hugs and fist bumps abounded Feb. 16 among the 24 teams representing 19 Jeffco middle and high schools at hockey day.
“This program means everything,” said Laura Zloger, adaptive physical education teacher at Lakewood High School. Zloger and her 16 students with disabilities look forward to the adapted athletics tournaments each month. “And then to have Bernie here, the mascot for the Avalanche, that just gets everybody fired up.”
The mission of the Jeffco adapted athletics program is to provide Jeffco students with disabilities the same opportunity as other students to enjoy the benefits of a middle school or high school sports program — becoming active members in society who lead healthy lifestyles.
Students that participate in the program range in mental disabilities from autism and social/emotional needs to physical disabilities that limit mobility. The sport of hockey is adapted for these students with the use of foam sticks, a bouncy foam ball for the puck and 10-minute games. Some students are in wheelchairs.
“It’s about giving them that opportunity to focus on their ability and not disability,” said Bryan Wickoren, adapted physical education coordinator for the district. “We don’t want them to be a spectator.”
The adaptive athletics program holds a tournament each month focusing on a different sport. The sports tie into the in-class curriculum and the seasonal prep sports. Hockey day coincided with Hockey Week in America and next month, basketball tournaments are scheduled around March Madness.
Students from the Ralston Valley High School hockey team and Metropolitan State University of Denver acted as officials for the games.
“It’s about trying to give back,” said Jay Gleson, senior hockey player at Ralston Valley. “It’s a lot of fun. A lot of smiles. And being able to help kids that aren’t as fortunate to play hockey, which is one of the things that I love to do. It really warms your heart.”
Jeffo Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee is a big supporter of the program.
“I’m really proud of the work (Bryan Wickerson) does,” McMinimee said. “It’s about trying to remove the roadblocks so every students has the opportunity to have this kind of experience.”
The program, which once required schools to pay for their transportation, is now free for all students and schools.
“It means too much, not just to our 16 kids at Lakewood High School, but the special needs kids throughout the district in elementary and secondary,” Zloger said. “Now everybody gets an opportunity to do this.”
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