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Terrific Tiger: BHS senior leaves lasting legacy with Tiger baseball
For the last four years, Cooper Kolodziejczk has had a designated seat in the Tiger baseball dugout bearing his unique marker.
“Around that seat was just sunflower seeds everywhere until we blew them out for the next game, and then the next game there they all are again,” head baseball coach Mark Krueger said about the team’s manager of four years.
Kolodziejczk, affectionately known as “Coop” by his teammates, has an affinity for sunflower seeds. “I do, yeap! Pickle, pepper and ranch are my favorites.”
Although Kolodziejczk has special needs, it hasn’t prevented him from playing a crucial role for the Tigers.
“I’m an equipment manager, so I get all the bats and helmets, pick them up,”Kolodziejczk said. “I love being with my teammates and having fun with them, and the coaches too.”
The Texas Rangers are another of Kolodziejczk’s passions. He can name the starting lineup along with jersey numbers and stats, which is a skill he can also show off with the Tigers.
“He did that with our varsity team,” Krueger said.He knew everybody’s number, where I still don’t know everybody’s number.”
Kolodziejczk was even incorporated into the team’s hitting drills, taking a series of swings during batting practice. After every last swing the whole team would clap and cheer him on, a practice that was added before games too.
“They asked if I wanted to hit, so I said ‘Yeah!’” Kolodziejczk happily admitted. “I just stepped in there and they let me hit all season long. It was a lot of fun.”
It’s also been incredibly meaningful to his mother, SusanKolodziejczk.“Cooper loves baseball, and it’s his life since he was three-years old,” she said. “He’s enjoyed the game and wanted to be a part of it but because of his disabilities and issues with fine-motor skills, it’s a difficult thing for him. So, seeing him out on the field helping the guys and keeping them motivated, and up to date on the latest stats of all the Rangers players, seeing him out there being supportive and being a part of a game that he has loved his entire life is amazing.”
“He will be sorely missed,” head baseball coach Mark Krueger said.“He did a lot of things that I guess we took for granted that he would have out there for us. And now we don’t have that guy that we can lean on. We’re going to have to find another Cooper, and he’s going to be very hard to replace”
Kolodziejczk has not only made a lasting impression on the field but also in the classroom.
“He’s just such a great kid,” said Belton High School Life Skills and Special Education teacher Hayley Stephan. “He is the sweetest kid in the entire world. He’s always got a smile. He’s there to help everybody and brighten everyone’s day.”
He has been volunteering at Sparta Elementary, shadowing physical education paraprofessionals, and this activity, along with time spent helping at local daycare centers have been what Stephan describes as defining moments for his development.
“He started the year only being interested in sports, and then we had this turning point where he came to the daycare with us, and then we got done and he said, ‘I want to go back there tomorrow.’ He did so well there because it was such a good fit for him,” Stephan said.
Finding that fit after high school has always weighed heavily on Kolodziejczk’s parents’ minds. His mother Susan and her husband spent years researching the next steps, of what opportunities were available for Cooperto transition after high school when she discovered Texas A&M University’s PATHS certificate program.
“I told Cooper about it, and he said, ‘Yes, I want to do that.’ And he applied, and got interviewed and was accepted,” she said.
The competitive program, which only takes about 40 of the 100-plus adults that apply,is offered by the school’s Center on Disability and Development as a two-semester certification. Students are trained for careers in serving people with disabilities or working with children as direct support professionals, para-professionals or child care professionals.
Upon finding out Cooper was accepted, his mother said, “That was probably the most amazing moment I could think of with him because, just like with baseball, since he was little, he’s said ‘I’m going to A&M and I’m going to play baseball.’ My husband and I have always been careful to not tell him that he can’t do that, but a couple of years ago we sat him down and said, ‘We gotta be real with you. You’re not going to go to A&M because it’s not designed for kids like you.’”
While holding back tears just before Cooper was set to walk the stage and receive his high school diploma, Susan Kolodziejczk’s described his acceptance into A&M as a “little unexpected.”
“We never thought he was going to have those opportunities. We always thought he was going to be close to home and with us … But now it’s like my son is going to be an hour and half away from home learning how to live independently, where right now he could not. And they’re going to teach him how to do that. It’s hard to even imagine the difference of what he’s going to be after that program, and it’s all my husband and I ever wanted for him.”
Cooper is eagerly awaiting his first semester. “I like A&M,” he said. “I think it’s going to be good and fun.”