Originally published Feb. 17, 2020 in Your Hub, a Denver Post publication.
He doesn’t have a regular classroom. He doesn’t even have a regular school. But Bryan Wickoren is one of the most well-known physical educators in Jeffco Public Schools.
Week in, and week out, Wickoren is a familiar, encouraging presence at any number of elementary, middle and high schools that have adapted physical education programs for differently-abled students in Jeffco. Wickoren, who is the district’s Adapted Physical Education Coordinator, has been doing this work for nearly 30 years. Early on, he thought he was destined for a football field sideline.
“I always wanted to be a collegiate football coach,” Wickoren explained. “And then I started work with students with special needs in California and just fell in love with it. Slowly it kind of took me over and became my passion and kind of calling.”
That calling keeps him in constant motion at every point of the compass within the vast school district. Wickoren doesn’t do this alone. He works in tandem with school-based staff who’ve also devoted themselves to adapted physical education. He likes to uses creativity whenever possible in designing activities for students, including deploying a colorful canopy that students laughingly use to fling stuffed characters high into the air.
“It’s never a dull day,” Wickoren noted. He says for the students, every day is a new day, and the reward he gets is to see their gross motor skills improve over time. Unlike most educators, Wickoren gets to interact with many of the same differently-abled students from elementary through high school. A big key is patience.
“One of the things I talk to the staff about is ‘don’t get frustrated,’” Wickoren explained. “You know, that’s going to be part of the disability that have. And, you know, by the end of the week, you’ll see the growth that you made.”
Wickoren is known for organizing a series of “Jeffco Adapted Athletics Days” that take students out of their usual schools, giving them the chance to compete in everything from softball, to basketball, to cross country, to floor hockey. Past venues have included the Gold Crown Field House in Lakewood and the adjoining All-Star Park At Keli McGregor Field.
He’s even tried Ninja Warrior Day in partnership with the National Sports Center, where students completed a series of obstacle course challenges. “They thoroughly enjoy being on a team, participating in an event,” Wickoren explained. “We’re trying to give them that opportunity to be successful and have fun.”
After each event, Wickoren is known for sending out thank you emails to all the people who help make them happen. At the very top of the message, he always writes, “A thousand plus smiles yesterday!”
Seeing that happiness in students is what keeps Wickoren going. That, and a simple philosophy that’s guided him throughout his professional life. “We all have abilities,” Wickoren said. “Some are just more pronounced than others. We just get to focus on that ability and see that success that a child can have.”
Editor’s Note: This article is drawn from the JPS-TV story “A Thousand Plus Smiles.” JPS-TV is Jeffco’s Official, Emmy®-nominated YouTube channel for the Jefferson County Public Schools Communications Department.