We Are The Champions

Students compete in Klein ISD Special Olympics. Courtesy of Klein B.E.S.T.

Members+of+the+Klein+High+Champions+Team+are+all+smiles+after+taking+home+a+win+in+December.

Photo courtesy of the Klein Champions Team

Members of the Klein High Champions Team are all smiles after taking home a win in December.

By Samantha Nodine and Zoe Spangler

When senior and B.E.S.T. officer Hannah Sale gets up in the morning, she begins her day like every other teenager. She gets dressed, brushes her teeth, and packs her bag with goggles, a swimsuit, and a towel for her afternoon swim practice in preparation for the upcoming Special Olympics competition where she will swim alongside her best friends in the Klein High Special Education Department.

The Klein Champions Special Olympics team, which aims to get Klein students with intellectual disabilities more involved in sports, offers golf, swimming, bowling, tennis, and track and field events. They train and compete over an eight-week period under the official Special Olympics calendar. Like many other competitions last year, the Klein Champions Special Olympics competition faced many COVID restrictions last year. This year, to make up for lost time, the participating students within Klein ISD practiced for eight consecutive weeks up until the big day. On the competition days, they take part in the events of their choice. This year, seniors Sale, Kaitlyn Larson, Tashina Walker, Justin Mansfield, and freshman Ryne Nelson proudly represented Klein.

“We learned about Klein Champions in 2015, when my daughter joined the team as a 4th grader,” Klein Champions Head of Delegation Hana Kosarek said. “It made a big difference in our lives, finding a community where she was happy, learned sports skills, and found new friends. Naturally, we wanted to get involved in helping, because these kids deserve to be supported and encouraged.”

Sale, like many of her friends, enjoyed swimming the most. She has been swimming since she was three years old, and she received three gold medals during the competition in 50 meter freestyle, 50 meter butterfly, and the unified relay.

“[When I was swimming during the competition], I was thinking about Michael Phelps,” Sale said.

Throughout the practices, training schedules, and awards ceremonies, the athletes’ unique personalities shone through. As the students grow as a single team, they grow individually just as well.

“I love seeing our athletes’ personalities come through on and off the sports field,” Kosarek said. “Whether it is a teammate or an opponent, the camaraderie is always present.”

The Klein Champions program allowed these students to grow closer with one another and form stronger bonds throughout the competition process. Each student stepped up to cheer on their friends and teammates and celebrated their victories.

“It makes me really happy when my friends win medals,” senior Kaitlyn Larson said, who received a first place medal in the golf tournament and four additional gold medals in swimming, including one for a unified relay. “We are really good at cheering each other on.”

The tournament lets these B.E.S.T. members bond outside of class and grow to feel safe and loved in their learning environment.

“I love school, and I love the B.E.S.T. Club,” senior Tashina Walker said. “It’s just one of my favorites. I just love school, and I love my friends.”

Walker, who has competed in basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, track, bowling, tennis, and swimming, has been part of Klein Champions since she was a freshman. This past event, Walker received gold medals in the 50 meter freestyle and 50 meter backstroke races as well as a gold medal in a unified relay.

“I am proud of everything I have accomplished,” Walker said. “When I won my first medal, I felt loved. It felt really good.”

This story was originally published on Klein Bearchat on January 7, 2022.