Brush Junior Alex Kowalski has recently finished up his first season competing as a member of the Brush High School swim team, and has uniquely experienced the ‘upside of downs’ as his coach and teammates have embraced him as one of their own. Neither Alex, nor his family, has allowed the fact that he has downs syndrome get in the way of his being an integral part of the team this year. His specialty; one of the most challenging swims there is, the butterfly. And while Alex has practiced and competed during the entire season, his parents wish to formally thank Coach Spicer and the entire Brush High swim team for the chance to make Alex feel welcomed.
“We’re very fortunate to have been given this opportunity,” says Jim Kowalski, Alex’s father, in regards to Alex participating on the swim team. The Kowalski’s have three children, including Alex’s older sister Kristen, a 4-year swimmer on the Brush High team who is currently a student at University of Pittsburgh, and his younger brother, Charlie, who is a freshman at Brush. Together, they form a tight-knit family, who rally around the special needs of each other. Moving from Michigan nearly twenty years ago, the Kowalski’s settled in the South Euclid Lyndhurst School District, and according to Jim, “their family has found the right place to be for their children for a reason.”
Like most families with special needs children, Jim and his wife Laurie, have been actively involved in support groups throughout Northeast Ohio for those dealing with similar issues. The little initial concern Jim and Laurie experienced was quickly swept away by Alex’s enthusiasm and willingness to participate. This, coupled with the guidance of Coach Brett Spicer, who incidentally swam with Alex’s older sister Kristen at Brush, and good friends like Sean Powers, has made a tremendous impact on Alex’s abilities. He endured the hard work of the swim team, attending practices early in the morning over winter break and competing in regular swim meets. Even though Alex didn’t qualify for swim tournament action, he made the trips to the University of Akron along with Cleveland State University to cheer on his beloved teammates. Jim Kowalski says that once the school district decided that Alex could participate, their family was “all in, completely on board” with the commitments required of every member of the team.
The need to provide similar programming to the extent practicable is a hallmark belief of the South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools. Whenever and wherever possible, students of all needs, skills and talents are exposed to opportunities that can engage them on the most basic, but creative, levels. This opportunity for Alex to swim on the varsity team, and other similar opportunities, surface as a result of routine monitoring of student progress, collaboration between a number of individuals at the SEL schools and the parents, and a belief that all students are entitled to the same educational experiences.
“The district has been cutting edge and phenomenal when it comes to the educational and extracurricular programming that has been offered to Alex,” Jim continues. In fact, Alex’s sister Kristen is studying right now to be a pediatric occupational therapist, so that she can, according to Jim, help people like her brother someday. And because of such a wonderful experience that Alex and his family had this year, when asked if he will swim again next year, as a senior, Alex quickly replies, “oh yeah!”
Thank you to the Brush High Swim Team and Coach Spicer, as well as the Kowalski family for their willingness to demonstrate the wonderful relationship forged as a strong partnership between families in our district and the SEL Schools.