Rockford High School cross country girls work with special needs athletes

Gavin Betten, lead child in orange;
Zachary Cranmer, middle boy in orange; and Ian Hearn, back child in orange, are among the students who participated in a clinic with the Rockford High School girls cross country team. Photos by Amy Kelly.

By Cindy M. Cranmer


Several Rockford High School cross country athletes took the opportunity to share their time and talents with special needs students of varying degrees recently.

Through the athletic teams and the RAMS program, which stands for Rockford Athletes with a Mission of Service, high school athletes have been working with special needs students.

The Special Treasures group, which serves area special needs children, has been in existence for more than three years. During the 2011-2012 year Special Treasures teamed up with the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee in Rockford to put together athletic clinics for students with any type of special need.

That partnership is again bringing athletic clinics to special needs students for the 2012-2013 school year. Rockford area students with any type of special need are able to learn about a variety of sports such as cross country, track, volleyball, bowling, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, crew and others through a program that involves an opportunity to be working with high school athletes. A clinic recently took place with the Rockford High School girls cross country team.

“It’s very inspiring working with these kids,” said Ben Watson, coach of the high school girls cross country team. “Their enthusiasm is awesome.” Watson said the girls had fun when they did the clinic during the 2011-2012 school year so they decided to do it again.

There are 38 girls on the team from ninth through 12th grades and most made the clinic. The cross country team worked with the special needs students showing them how to do warm up exercises, drills, sprinting and running activities. Drills included high knees, butt kicks, skipping, side shuffles and grapevines. Amy Kelley, a parent volunteer who coordinates projects with another volunteer, Cindy Quinn, said the majority of people in Special Treasures are from Rockford. Quinn and Kelley both have children in the Rockford School District and got involved with the program for personal reasons.

Special Treasures and the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee in Rockford are putting together the athletic clinics for the students. Special Treasures and SEPAC connected with the RAMS as a contact with the different high school teams.

“The high school teams really do all the organizing of what the teams are going to do,” Kelley said.

The clinics are available to students for free or a nominal cost depending on grant monies. The clinics are fully monitored and individualized to match the abilities of each student who participates by being one-on-one or two-on-one for most events.

Kelley said three new students attended the cross country clinic and she is hoping word spread. Additional new students have signed up for future clinics. There were 11 different clinics during the last school year and Kelley is hoping to put together at least 15 to 20 clinics for this school year.

“We’re hoping to reach even more new families this year,” Kelley said. “We enjoy watching the teams interact with the kids.”

Clinics that are already scheduled include soccer, volleyball, bowling and dance. Other clinics in the works include baseball, basketball, tennis, track and crew.

Jennifer Brimm, mother of kindergarten student DJ, is glad for the program. “It’s something for him to do after school and meet new people,” Brimm said. She said it also a good way for him to try athletics in a safe and fun environment.

Hannah Wellman, a freshman, said it is her first year of high school cross country and the first year she has been able to volunteer with the clinic. “I thought it would be a good experience and fun,” Wellman said.

“It is really fun,” agreed Rebecca Carlson, a senior. “It makes me appreciate running more. I love how hard the kids try and it makes me want to do my best.”

Anyone who wants to learn more about the Special Treasures group or opportunities for those with special needs can contact Kelley through email at “I have a heart for these kids and this cause,” Kelley said.

Kelley said she will keep working to bring athletics to special needs students and the chance to try more activities out.

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