WINDHAM — Whether you’re an athlete or artist, an all-star student or someone who’s no stranger to struggles, there’s a place for you in the Jaguar Community Alliance (JCA).
That’s been the Windham High School club’s message since its inception four years ago, according to staff advisor Michael Welch.
Welch, who formed a similar club called Just Like Us (JLU) during his years on staff at Pinkerton Academy, said both organizations are intended to bring together students with disabilities and their general population peers.
These days the Pinkerton club is still going strong with approximately 400 members, while there are approximately 150 members of the JCA, ranging from varsity athletes to students with special needs.
“It’s an important mission because we all know high school isn’t an easy time for everyone,” Welch said. “Having regular club activities fosters friendships. It brings people together.”
On Thursday afternoon, the day before graduation, dozens of club members gathered on the baseball field, eager to engage in some friendly competition during the annual staff versus student softball game and barbecue. Alumni stopped by to catch up with old friends, while seniors discussed their post-graduation plans.
Senior Caitlin Pierson, the club’s president, said she’s been involved with the JCA since her freshman year.
Like many of the club members, Pierson, who will study human services at Assumption College this fall, said the softball game is one of her favorite events of the year.
“The best part is seeing someone get up to bat. That person may not be the best athlete, but that doesn’t matter,” she said. “Everyone cheers everyone else on.”
That’s not to say there’s no sense of competition. Traditionally, staff members have beaten the student team on the softball field, but not for lack of trying on the students’ part.
“It’s okay, we brought in some extra guidance counselors to help console you guys,” Welch playfully ribbed students shortly before the game began, bringing a collective groan from the crowd.
Junior Aaron Hillyer said he’s proud to serve on the club’s board.
“We’ve had ping pong tournaments, we’ve played video games,” Hillyer said. “But the Halloween party we have is definitely my favorite.”
Welch started the JCA club shortly after his hire at Windham High School. For the first year the club had just under 30 members, but has continued to grow, doubling in size the following year.
He said his administrators, fellow staff members and parents have been huge supporters of the JCA.
“About once a month we take over an entire wing of the school,” Welch said. “We play games, we watch movies.”
Freshman Mike Tanguay, a member of the school’s wrestling team, said he’s even convinced a few of his friends to join the JCA.
“It’s just good fun for everyone,” he said.