By Benjamin Wideman
Silver Lake College Director of Communications
MANITOWOC — When Courtney Clavers suits up for a volleyball match or basketball game, there’s one person she especially loves to see in the stands — her big brother, Spencer.
“I’m excited that he’s always there and supporting me,” said Courtney, a junior at Silver Lake College who’s majoring in Early Childhood and Special Education and plans on becoming a teacher. “He might not be able to verbalize, but his actions mean the world to me. He’s always there cheering me on. That connection we have is very important.”
The relationship between Courtney, 20, and Spencer, 24 — who has Down Syndrome — is so important that Courtney makes time in her busy schedule to serve as a certified coach on his Brillion Special Olympics Bowling Team for Area 4-10. The team, which has four bowlers, practices Wednesdays at Pla-Mor Lanes in Chilton.
“Courtney is always there for Spencer — listening and helping him,” said their mother, Betsy, who’s also trained as a certified coach on the bowling team. “And at Courtney’s games, with Spencer we do high-fives to celebrate. He really gets into it.
“Our family is just extremely close. We do many things together. Having a disability in the family is part of why we are so close.”
Courtney echoed similar sentiments, noting that regardless of which method of communication they use, she and her brother never have a problem getting their points across.
“We’re really close,” said Courtney, who describes Spencer as her hero. “It’s to the point where I can almost read his mind or know how he’s feeling. And when I tell him something, he listens. Like, with bowling, sometimes he might twist his wrist so the ball goes in the gutter. So I tell him to remember to keep it straight, and I can tell that he’s listening.”
Spencer, a bowler for 15 years, also has participated in Special Olympics track and basketball. The entire Clavers family — including Courtney’s father, Cyril, and older sister, Whitney, as well as grandparents Bob and Bev Loofboro — support one another.
This is Courtney’s second year as a certified coach on the bowling team, and her third year overall helping with the group. She said serving as a Special Olympics coach is the greatest accomplishment of her life thus far.
In the future, Courtney would like to use her Silver Lake College degree to work with young children with special needs and fulfill her goals of “making a difference” and “showing the world that everyone is unique.”
“It became more important when I started going to college here to be more of an advocate for special needs,” said Courtney, who also has a cousin with autism. “In high school, you get caught up in yourself and don’t think much about others. So growing up and doing something for someone else became very important to me in life. That’s when I decided that becoming a special needs teacher is what I really want to do.”
Courtney and her family supported the Down Syndrome Awareness Walk, which was held Oct. 4 in Neenah. Last spring, they took part in the Autism Walk. The family also will root for Spencer and his bowling teammates when the Brillion squad competes at regionals on Oct. 19 in Appleton.
Courtney noted that the bowling team members aren’t the only ones who learn something at their weekly practices.
“I think the more people you meet in life, the more you learn about yourself and others,” she said. “I know that my personality and character has continually changed throughout my life by being involved in my local community.”
When she isn’t helping with the bowling team, attending classes at Silver Lake College, working a part-time job or driving back and forth between her family home in Brillion and the campus in Manitowoc, Courtney plays saxophone with the college’s Jazz Ensemble and relaxes by watching Netflix, running and bicycling with her brother.
“I don’t think of Spencer any different because he has Down Syndrome,” Courtney said. “I’ve always just thought of him as my brother.”