This is the first of 20 profiles of The Gazette's Best and Brightest Class of 2018.
It was in grade school when Morgan Sibley, now a senior at Liberty High School, first met a child with special needs. She was a student in her class and Sibley enjoyed being friends with her because of the girl's happy attitude.
That experience and others Sibley had while helping kids with special needs inspired her to try out to become the first female member of the Liberty football team.
She has always loved sports, and has excelled at soccer and basketball, winning letters and awards.
The basketball team has a community service program to help third-graders at Explorer Elementary with multiplication skills. Sibley joined the program and was immediately drawn to the kids who were challenged. Instead of multiplication, they concentrated on addition skills and she was as thrilled as they were when they made progress.
She also volunteered with Liberty's Elementary School Helpers, a similar program where she helped a girl with a severe brain defect. "She is very smart. Nothing stopped her from smiling every single day, and she brightened my day," Sibley says.
Sibley also teaches special needs children in Rush Pikes Peak's TOP Soccer Thunder program which helps kids improve their fitness and self-esteem rather than emphasizing competition.
"The experience has been humbling. Their enthusiasm taught me a lot," Sibley says.
She was uncertain of her own skills when an assistant football coach at Liberty who had seen her kick at a soccer game suggested she try out for the football team. She practiced all summer, and for inspiration watched videos of a female kicker at Adams State University.
Sibley became the first girl in Liberty history to play in football games. She gained confidence by thinking of the courage her special needs kids had shown in everything they did. She told herself, "If they can do what they do, I should be able to do something as easy as kicking a football."
At first the guys on her team and competing teams gave her a bad time. Some insisted that a male should get the kicker spot. But in her first game against Rampart High School, she kicked three extra points.
Eventually, she was accepted and made friends in the process, she said. "I believe I have set an example not just for me, but for all girls who feel like they need to prove themselves."
She plans to study occupational therapy at Regis University and eventually work with children with disabilities. "I have learned so much from them and consider their impact on my life a gift."