United in Play: Two Glenwood students coaching local Special Olympics team | AspenTimes.com

United in Play: Two Glenwood students coaching local Special Olympics team

Cassandra Ballard
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Claire Hardaker poses in front of her sister, Kate Hardaker, and co-coach Sage Kaufmann.
Cassandra Ballard/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Senior capstone projects in high school are usually based on personal interests of students to explore, but not all students choose something that also benefits his or her community.

Two years ahead of needing to pick a capstone, Glenwood Springs High School seniors Kate Hardaker and Sage Kaufmann decided on something that interested them and benefits someone they care about: Kate’s little sister, Claire.

They wanted to create a completely inclusive soccer team. 

After going to a Colorado Rapids game and seeing the Rapids Special Olympics Unified Team — the team combines people with and without intellectual disabilities — Kate wanted Claire to have something like that here in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Kaufmann, an adamant soccer player and a good friend of Kate’s, liked the idea and decided to help. At the end of their sophomore year, they got together with the soccer club and started having practices. 

“She’s always loved sports and everything like basketball and swimming,” Kate said about Claire. “She’s really good at all of that, but she’s never really had the opportunity to do any of that, so I got in touch with Special Olympics Colorado, and they’ve helped us a lot.”

A year later, the program has grown and both Kate and Kaufmann said the whole process has been a complete blast. They plan to get the team into the local Special Olympics next summer. 

Claire is a part of the team, but she sometimes prefers basketball and occasionally switches to dribbling and shooting hoops when they play in the gym. She’s a versatile athlete with many interests, including dancing with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet School.

Although soccer isn’t her favorite, she does love to play it. It is her dad’s favorite, who also helps coach the team with their mom. 

“My dad has always really, really loved soccer,” Kate said. “He grew up in Liverpool in England, so he’s a diehard Liverpool supporter. It’s been really a big part of our lives.”

Having her whole family around doesn’t hold Claire back from being the group comedian and teasing her big sister. She is a born leader and is very outgoing during practice, Kate said.

Recently, the staff from the Glenwood Springs Recreation Center got in contact with the girls and wanted to talk about having their team join the Special Olympics next summer. It was a great way to help grow the team and combine resources between them. 

Sage Kaufmann kicking the ball around with Claire.
Cassandra Ballard/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

“They’ve helped us to get more people, and an app where we can get in touch with teammates and stuff,” Kate said.

Claire also joined their Special Olympics swim team through the city.

With all of the hard work from the girls, the help from Kate and Claire’s parents, Colorado Special Olympics and the city, along with the high school giving them access to the gym and the field, they are set up for a good year with the team.

“At the beginning, it was more like, ‘Let’s just get out and play and have fun,'” Kaufmann said. 

Although it is still fun to play that way, it’s been a fun time watching the players excel and get better at shooting and passing with each other, Kaufmann said. 

The girls will continue practices each weekend throughout the summer into next year. They prefer the gym, which is more wheelchair accessible. After their senior year and capstone is complete, they plan to find people to continue their work.

Kate said she is looking into leaving the valley for college, while Kaufmann is considering possibly sticking around. Wherever they go, they plan on keeping the team alive for all future players.