NHS and Best Buddies host annual Cougar Relays event

Students celebrate with games and many activities at cougar relays.

On Thursday, Mar. 9, 2023, students in special education programs from various schools across the Chaffey Joint Union High School District (CJUHSD) gathered together for a fun day full of activities and music for the annual Cougar Relays.

This event was held at the Rancho Cucamonga High School Cougar Stadium and gave the students an opportunity to have fun and make memories, regardless of ability.

“The Cougar Relays are an event that started around 17 years ago by our National Honor Society president,” National Honor Society (NHS) adviser and teacher Ms. Kristen Herchenroeder said. “She has a heart for mixing general education kids with the special needs children and to have a day of fun and games where everyone can be peers and equals.” 

Ellen Paige, former RCHS student and NHS President, first started the tradition in 2007 which would evolve to the Cougar Relays we know today. 

Sixteen years ago marked the beginning of the annual celebration in which Rancho Cucamonga High School and CJUHSD bring together students with intellectual and developmental disabilities from the schools in the district. 

 In 2022, the event received the Golden Bell Award. The California Golden Bell Award is given to a school that promotes excellence and recognizes outstanding programs throughout the whole of California. 

“Inspired by her brother with special needs, she sought to create some sort of schoolwide activity in which students with special needs were shown that they were accepted, celebrated, and valued as important members of the school community,” Herchenroeder said in a description of the Golden Bell Award. 

Both NHS and Best Buddies worked with students and staff to develop a full day of activities and games. 

The process of preparation began very early in advance with the establishment of stable communication between each school in the district to see which students could participate. Then, weeks are spent getting students and staff prepared to get the games planned out and creating a team system so everyone can remain organized.

“A lot of logistics, making sure all of the students are coming and we are getting them into mixed teams so they meet new people. Planning the teams, the games, snacks, and souvenirs ready to be handed out,” Herchenroeder said. 

The Cougar Relays provide a great day to have fun and hopefully make new friends and give the kids a pleasant time. It is a great way to promote a more inclusive environment where students with different backgrounds and abilities can associate with each other. 

“Personally, the first time I participated in Cougar Relays was last year and seeing everyone so excited to come out and have a whole day of nothing but fun and hanging out with each other and making new friends is something that is really great for everyone and also for people who participate in general,” Janina Gbenoba said.

Overall, the program is a positive step towards promoting inclusion, positive relationships, and overall well being of students and staff of all abilities. It provides an opportunity for students to learn from one another, break down social barriers, and build positive connections within RCHS. NHS and Best Buddies are excited to prepare and host the next annual Cougar Relays.