Gazing up at a 40-foot rock climbing wall at the Boulders Sport Climbing Center in Harker Heights Tuesday night, several kids in the Heights Parks and Recreation Superhero Adaptive Sports Program seemed ecstatic, while others appeared unsure.

The experience was a first for many of the 10 children in the group, some who have never participated in a sport due to intellectual or physical challenges.

“The Adaptive Sports Program gives kids with special needs a chance to get out, get involved, make friends and interact with others,” said Bailey Ross, athletic coordinator for the city. “This program is just a small part of my job description, but it’s the cherry on top.”

Boulders Manager Richard Kahabka feels the same. “I love my job, but this is one of the things I look forward to the most,” he said, noting that the center has been working with adaptive programs for about five years and hopes to expand on the services they offer to individuals with disabilities. “I love to see the joy on the kids’ faces and how surprised the parents are when they see what their kids can do. It’s about expanding possibilities.”

After Kahabka briefed the group on basic rock climbing terminology and safety rules, he taught the kids rudimentary skills such as how to safely “fall” off the bouldering wall (where one climbs up to 12 feet without ropes before jumping off the wall). Once each child practiced falling, they began starter climbs.

Joel Ortega, 13, excitedly awaited a second turn at climbing the bouldering wall as his aunt, Onadia Cabrera, looked on.

“This is a whole new experience for Joel,” she said. “He loves technology and video games but has never tried a sport, so we thought rock climbing might help him with his disability (autism).”

“I’m surprised he’s so daring,” Cabrera added. “I never thought he would want to climb a wall.”

Ortega wasn’t the only enthusiastic kid. As the other kids left with their parents, squeals of delight could be heard coming from the direction of Amy Rivera, 8, who was virtually one with the wall.

“I liked going high and falling down,” she grinned. “I was freaking out.”

Rivera’s mother, Melanie Brown, said Amy, who has high-functioning autism, has been participating in the Adaptive Sports Program for years.

“She’s done soccer, basketball, bowling and gymnastics,” Brown noted. “She even said she wants to do football.”

The Superhero Adaptive Sports Program gives kids with disabilities ages 5 to 22 years old a chance to socialize and participate in sports such as bowling, basketball, soccer and rock climbing. Sports are offered once a week in four- to six-week sessions, depending on the sport. Fees vary but accommodations are offered to those needing financial assistance.

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