RCHS hosts 14th annual Cougar Relays


Photo courtesy: Jake Jenson

An RCHS special-needs student leaps as far as he can while his teammates cheer him on.

Video by Nimrah Khan

Within the gates of the RCHS stadium, the smiles of nearly 200 special-needs students illuminated the field, deafening the campus with their triumphant cheers and cries of joy as they participated in the 14th annual RCHS Cougar Relays. 

On Thursday, Mar. 10, after two pandemic-ridden years, the Cougar Relays returned to the RCHS campus with an astounding 181 participants! 

“We had around 180 students participating from all of our district high schools as well as NHS and Best of Buddies club members. There were a lot of students out there,” said NHS advisor Ms. Kristin Herchenroeder. 

Cougar Relays is an annual tradition at RCHS hosted by the National Honors Society (NHS) in partnership with Best of Buddies where the special-needs students from schools district-wide compete in a series of inclusive games, challenges, and activities.

A special-needs student participates in the basketball challenge, assisted by NHS member Sandy Mourice (right). (Photo courtesy: Jake Jenson )

The event opened with celebratory speeches from Dr. Mat Holton, Mr. Joshua Kirk, and senior Jake Jenson, honoring the Cougar Relays’ purpose and legacy. They also addressed the prestigious Golden Bell Award that the event received in December for its outstanding ability to enhance the student experience. 

All 181 special-needs students were divided into teams of colors, with each team and game led by fellow RCHS students.  In total, there were 15 different games that decorated the RCHS football field, through which the teams of special-needs students would rotate. The array of student-run games included long jump, bowling, Red-light Green-light, basketball, relay racing, and an obstacle course.

The event closed with a final victory lap around the RCHS track, a lively dance party, and tons of pizza. Later that night, Cougar Relays even received coverage on Channel 4 NBC News!

Not only did the event engage NHS members and special needs students, but it also garnered support from RCHS students. During 3rd period and lunch, hundreds of students flocked to the bleachers to spectate the games in action.

Preparation for Cougar Relays began in December of 2021. Then, NHS focused their efforts on creating the teams and activities, discussing the supplies needed for those activities, and assigning people to run the games or lead the teams. 

Despite the little experience the NHS members and volunteers had, given that the previous Cougar Relays were canceled or modified, Ms. Herchenroeder praised her NHS leadership.  “My leadership did an amazing job of overseeing it all, it was definitely student-led. And for a lot of them, they’ve never experienced Cougar Relays either. Next year I think now that everyone has the taste of it, they want more,” said Ms. Herchenroeder.

Once the pizza boxes were thrown away and the games were dismantled, senior and NHS senator Soffee Khalileh said, “Cougar Relays made all the work worth it because planning the event took so many hours and all these years off my life. Everything went smoothly.” 

“The most fulfilling part of the Cougar Relays was when all the students that came to our school were leaving. A lot of them were saying goodbye and they remembered my name,” said Khalileh. “A student named Trevor said he was so excited about it and he was like ‘I’m having the most fun in the whole wide world!’” 

That was exactly what Cougar Relays was meant for. Cougar Relays at its core centers around students. Having students plan the event, run it, and bond with their fellow peers despite their differences is what sets Cougar Relays apart from any other event at RCHS. To summarize it all, CJUHSD Superintendent Dr. Mat Holton said in an interview with NBC, “Students are caring about individuals, and today I think that that’s so important.”