To Kristi Clave, Special Olympics is a way of life. Kristi has been involved with Special Olympics since she was in the third grade. Her involvement began when she became friends with a girl her age who was a Special Olympics athlete. Kristi began volunteering and continued to be involved throughout her entire academic career. Having had exposure to people with intellectual disabilities at such a young age, Kristi always knew that she wanted to become a special education teacher.

When Kristi began teaching a Multiple Disabilities class at Maple Road Elementary School, she was heartbroken to discover that West Milford no longer ran any Special Olympics programs. Determined to revive it, Kristi reached out to Rich Deska, the Area Director in Passaic County, and the connection solidified hope for West Milford to offer Special Olympics programs once again. Without Kristi’s involvement, West Milford would likely still be without a Special Olympics program.

The partnership between Rich and Kristi has made West Milford one of the most organized and well-run multi-sport programs in the state, emphasizing the quality of the athlete experience. Apart from bowling, Kristi runs a basketball skills program in the spring and a track and field program in the summer for West Milford.

“Rich has since been a mentor and a friend,” Kristi said, “and a great wealth of knowledge in all things Special Olympics.” When Special Olympics was restored in West Milford in 2008, there were five athletes in the bowling program. Now the program boasts 47 athletes and more than 60 consistent volunteers and, these days, Kristi’s biggest difficulty is in trying to manage time so that each of the athletes gets the best training and experience at bowling practices, not simply in boosting participation.

Kristi has been an avid bowler (in friendly competition with her family) since she was a little girl, and gives her dad the title of her first “coach.” But she sees bowling as an opportunity to compete against one another and to socialize. Kristi strongly believes that the social aspect of Special Olympics is just as important as the athletic part, especially for the younger athletes she coaches.

And Kristi admits that coaching so many young children can be a challenge, but she has a robust team of coaches, volunteers and very supportive families. “We have had to increase the number of practices for the young athletes so they can learn all of the skills that will make them successful athletes in the future.”

She uses the same philosophy in the classroom and on the field: “All athletes can succeed.” The philosophy is so simple and she believes in it whole-heartedly. Athletes and students are able to achieve success when they are encouraged to achieve. Kristi far exceeds the expectations set forth for coaches by living this philosophy every day. The West Milford Special Olympics program is bolstered by its volunteers, friends and families, all of whom are dedicated to this same philosophy. “I’m never surprised when an athlete accomplishes their goal,” said Kristi. “I’m just so certain of the success.”

For her undying enthusiasm, commitment to her athletes and passion for Special Olympics New Jersey, we are proud to select Kristi Clave as our 2015 Spring Sports Coach of the Season!

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