“Just because we are ‘different’ does not mean we cannot have the same opportunities that ‘regular’ people have. We want to celebrate our differences through activities. Let’s laugh, cry, be happy and celebrate life. Bring it on. We accept challenges only to learn how to overcome them.”
That’s the mission statement Alana Henderson wrote for a unique sports program at Wendover High School. The program, Bring It On: Sports, gives Wendover’s three special education students with opportunities to compete in high school sports.
Alana is a senior at Wendover High School. She competes in five sports: volleyball, basketball, track, cross country and golf.
“She (Alana) wanted the special ed kids to have the same opportunities she has as a five-sport athlete, so she decided to set up this program to offer a competitive environment where the severe (special needs) kids could compete and have fun and play sports,” said Kate Henderson, special education teacher at WHS and the advisor for Bring It On: Sports.
Alana was inspired to start the sports program after she helped with some adaptive physical education classes taught by KC Bleazard.
Bleazard works as an adaptive physical education teacher for Tooele County School District and travels to different schools throughout the district to teach P.E. classes. She also served as the head volleyball coach at Grantsville High School from 2014 to 2017.
“That’s kind of what started this whole thing,” Alana said. “I was helping her (Bleazard) with the P.E. classes she was doing (for the special education kids) and it kind of gave me the idea.”
When Alana saw how much her classmates loved playing the games Bleazard designed for them, she wanted to give them more opportunities to compete.
That’s when she started Bring It On: Sports, under Henderson’s supervision.
“I saw how much the kids loved participating in sports,” Alana said. “My goal is just to provide opportunities for these kids; just give them experiences and let them have fun.”
Alana started by making T-shirts for each student. Each shirt has the name of the program on the front and the student’s name on the back.
Her plan is to organize one game for each new sport season. She’s already held a baseball game and a volleyball game, in addition to giving one student an opportunity to cheer.
Since there are only three students with severe special needs in Wendover High School, Alana originally invited the special needs students at West Wendover High School in Nevada to participate in Bring It On: Sports.
West Wendover declined, but Alana moved forward anyway.
She invited the other student athletes at Wendover High School to join in on the games. They accepted gladly.
“The other kids at school are really good to help out and cheer for them,” Henderson said. “When we did the baseball game, we had the baseball team waiting at home plate. They were waiting for them to come to home plate (after hitting the ball off a tee) and then they cheered for them and gave them high fives.
“One little girl, a tenth grader, loves cheerleading. So we loaned her a cheer uniform and she got to cheer for a baseball game with the other cheerleaders.
“In the volleyball game, Alana blew up an oversized beach ball and we had the baseball team on one side, the volleyball team on the other side, and we just hit the beach ball back and forth over the net and had fun. … The special needs kids play with the other kids.”
Before each game, Alana sends invitations to the students’ parents to inform them about the events and invite their children to participate.
“After the event, she has trophies or medals for them,” Henderson said.
Alana appreciates all the support Bring It On: Sports receives from the Wendover student body.
“I’m loving it,” she said. “I love all the support we’re getting, that the kids are getting. When they announce that we’re having a game, they say, ‘our favorite students in the school,’ so our whole school is behind it. And they are some of our favorite kids in school — everybody knows them. Everybody loves them. We’re giving them an opportunity and everybody is behind it.”
The students’ parents love the program too.
“The parents of these children just cry with gratitude and excitement to watch their kids participate, because normally, they’d never get an opportunity to do so,” Henderson said. “It’s really cool.”
The next event for Bring It On: Sports will be a basketball game on Dec. 17.
After that, Alana is planning to do a track meet and a soccer game.
“December will be basketball. In March or April, we’ll do track and soccer,” she said.
After Alana graduates in May, she intends to prepare for a career in athletic training.
“Working with special needs kids would be a blast if it is in my future, but I’m looking more toward athletic training,” she said.
Henderson hopes another student will step forward to help run Bring It On: Sports after Alana graduates.
“We’re really hoping that next year, somebody will take it over and continue doing it for the kiddos at the school,” Henderson said.