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LA PORTE – When Rowen Hall was born with down syndrome, his mother Karen didn’t know what to expect in his life.
Of Karen’s three children, Rowen is the most athletic. He loves sports. He loves to run and play. Since he was 11 years old, Rowen has been in Special Olympics. When he walked onto campus at La Porte High School, the track and field coach at the time reached out to Karen to get Rowen on the track team.
After his freshman year, that coach left. Enter Jaime Arizpe.
“I was worried that Rowen wouldn’t be able to continue but Coach Arizpe embraced him and kept him under his wing,” Karen said.
For the past two years, Rowen has continued to run with the La Porte track team in the spring, even competing in a few meets. His teammates welcomed him as one of their own, and so has Arizpe.
“When I took over this role, I said we have to continue to have him with us,” Arizpe said. “The kids loved him.”
Rowen takes a very active role with the team.
When the Bulldogs are doing warm-ups, Arizpe will stand and blow his whistle for the first group to go. Then the second. Then, Rowen will walk onto the track for his turn.
“He’ll say, ‘Coach!’ and he wants the whistle,” Arizpe said, showing how Rowen will put his hands up to his mouth like he is holding a whistle. “He wants the same thing as everybody else. So, I’ll blow the whistle. I get in trouble when I don’t have the whistle.”
Last season on March 10, Arizpe was able to set up Rowen to run in one of the local track meets, his first race.
“It’s fun,” Rowen said. “[I like to] run.”
With the support of his teammates, and even opposing teams.
“We had all of our kids run next to him,” Arizpe said. “He finished and got a medal. That was awesome.”
Karen added: “It wasn’t just our kids. It was kids from the other schools that were running with him too.”
Rowen Hall showing the community what he has been working on! ⚡️@lpisd #LPGreatthings pic.twitter.com/DZ7Ioaa1t1— La Porte XC/Track (@LaPorteRunning) March 11, 2022
With three years of being in the track program and last year competing in a race, Rowen qualified to receive his athletic letterman jacket.
On August 30, the jackets that had been fitted for in May finally arrived at the school. Arizpe admitted that he had had nightmares if Rowen had actually gone and been fitted for his jacket in May. As he went through the boxes, Arizpe's fears were put to rest as there was Rowen’s jacket.
Arizpe wanted to make this a special moment.
He went to the seniors on the team and handed them Rowen’s jacket out of his backpack, where he had been hiding it.
With cameras rolling, the team gathered around Rowen and presented him his own jacket. His last name – Hall – stitched onto the back, just like his brother and sister who had gotten theirs years prior.
Rowen hugged the jacket with the biggest smile, and he simply said, “Thank you.”
“I was glad I was working from home when Jaime sent me the video, because I sat there and bawled like a baby,” Karen said as she held back emotions. “It’s exciting because when Rowen was born with down syndrome, we didn’t know what to expect. It’s been so much fun watching him grow, be accepted and be loved by so many people.
“He was very excited when he got home with it.”
Arizpe added: “It was something that you’ll remember for a coaching career.”
💥Nothing like letterman day!💥Rowen has worked so hard for his reward! #family #hardwork #ChooseLP @lpisd @LPISDAthletics pic.twitter.com/lIoPCYigpJ— La Porte XC/Track (@LaPorteRunning) August 30, 2022
The video of Rowen getting presented his letterman jacket got viewed nearly 10,000 times on the La Porte XC/Track twitter account. Karen shared it on a national website for parents with children that have down syndrome.
She received nearly 500 responses to the video, many filled with hope.
“They are looking forward to the possibilities for their kids,” Karen said. “I think that’s what’s important about this. And to hopefully see other coaches embrace the idea and be comfortable with this.”
Someone once asked Karen, “Aren’t you afraid for him to walk out to athletics?”
“When people see him at the track meet and around the halls, they know him,” Arizpe said. “The kids have a sense in their soul that at La Porte we embrace everybody. Whoever is going to come into our locker room, whatever skill level, we’re going to build and cultivate the person to be a part of our community and our programs.”
Karen added: “It says a lot for our school and for our district. It’s the expectation, really, that students will be included.”
Rowen is already a star as he walks the halls of La Porte High for his senior year, but now even more so after the social media buzz around his video.
And you can expect to watch him blaze down the track come the spring, wearing the La Porte colors again. And, while he’s waiting on his race, wearing his letterman jacket.
“You’ll see him on the track this upcoming season,” Arizpe said. “We’ll get him some races. He is a social media superstar, so if I reach out to some other coaches, we can get him on that track circuit. We can make fun with that this year and make it special for him.”
Oh, if you were wondering – Rowen loves his letterman jacket.
“I was surprised,” he said. “It fits good.”
Ryley Klefstad, Concordia Lutheran
Ryley Klefstad Takes It Old School.
When asked what his walk-up song would be as he prepared for a big jump? You guessed it, “Jump” by Van Halen circa 1983.
His answer is apropos seeing his life is “90-percent pole vaulting”.
“I really got into the sport in the seventh grade,” he said. “My neighbor jumped for Sam Houston State and she really introduced me to the club side of the sport. I fell in love with it.”
He was sort of built for it having been a competitive gymnast up until the sixth grade, giving him a great foundation of speed, strength, body- control and explosion.
Klefstad continued working on his craft going into high school and won the TAPPS 6A State Championship as a sophomore in 2021. He finished with silver in 2022, tying Owen Williamson of Bishop Lynch at 15-feet. Williamson cleared the height in fewer vaults to earn gold.
The junior will be back in 2023 to try and get his title back.
“Another State Title would be nice,” he said. “It’s just more motivation. I like to think I thrive under pressure, not crack under it.”
For now, Klefstad hits the summer circuit with high expectations.
“My PR is 16-6 and my goal is to go 17-6,” he said.
If he hits anywhere near that mark, he will be a super-recruit.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “With all the time I’ve put into this, being able to do this at the college level is my current goal. As long as that happens, I’ll be happy.”