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Choose to Include event brings together athletes of all abilities

It was all hands on deck for the East Kentwood High School athletic program when they hosted Special Olympics athletes at their spacious athletic facilities just before the holidays for Choose to Include Day.

The East Kentwood student athletes couldn’t keep their eyes off Jack Milbratz, right, and his younger brother Eli

Dave Kransberger, the school’s varsity lacrosse coach and Special Olympics coordinator, marveled as he took in the scene.

“Isn’t this amazing?” he said. “It’s early, it’s Saturday, it’s just before the holidays with all the craziness of the season, and we have all these people out here volunteering their time to make sure this is a successful event.”

Choose to Include is designed for athletes with intellectual or physical challenges and sees them participate in a variety of mini-clinics with East Kentwood varsity sports programs and student organizations.

District teacher and athletic trainer Dan Chappell was one of the almost 100 coaches, athletes and athletic administrators lending a hand. “It’s a great event,” he said, “and I wanted to be here and support our athletes, our coaches and the Special Olympians.”

Junior track athlete Taylor Kyle was equally sanguine about her Saturday morning volunteer opportunity.

She spent most of it working with Special Olympians on relay race baton hand-offs. As 42 athletes rotated through the day’s 10 stations – everything from the baton hand-off to learning how to slide headfirst into a base to catching a lacrosse ball to kicking a football – Taylor greeted each new group with a smile and then launched into instruction and demonstration on the finer points of how to make a perfect relay race hand-off.

Lambeau Niemiec was all smiles at the volleyball station as East Kentwood player Alexa Kleynenberg assisted another athlete

“I’d never done it (the Choose to Include event) before,” she said, “so I thought ‘why not.’ It seemed like it would be fun, and I’m glad I did it. I am having so much fun. It’s been great.”

Even Captain America and Batgirl appeared to be having a blast. The pair belongs to the Grand Rapids-based Cosplay Crusaders, a group of 13 or so cosplayers who volunteer their time to bring superheroes to life for children.

For Kransberger, nothing could be better. As Special Olympics coordinator, he works closely with local, state and national offices to provide students in Kentwood opportunities to be involved in Special Olympics events. Choose to Include makes him proud to be a Falcon.

“Our student athletes and coaches gave freely of themselves,” he said, “and I think they were having just as much fun as the Choose to Include participants. The day was centered around integrating youth with special needs into the world of sports and reminded us of the joy that can come from participating in athletics.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and also is a general assignment reporter and the point person for the SNN Facebook and Twitter feeds. He hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children.  Read Phil's full bio or email Phil.

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