A&M-Commerce Kinesiology Student Discovers Career Focus as a Champion for Accessibility in Sports

Standing courtside at a recent unified basketball event hosted at Texas A&M University-Commerce, kinesiology student Katelyn Frisbie's eyes light up as she cheers for both special education and general education students participating in the event. As an aspiring adapted physical education (PE) teacher, it's an environment where she feels right at home.

A young woman poses, holding a basketball on her hip.
A&M-Commerce student Katelyn Frisbie. Photo submitted by Frisbie.

What is Adapted Physical Education?

Adapted physical education fosters welcoming environments where individuals of all abilities can participate in sports and physical activities. Working closely with students, families and other professionals, adapted PE instructors focus on accommodating various disabilities, including mobility and sensory impairments, intellectual disabilities and emotional or behavioral disorders. This can include anything from modifying the equipment and rules of traditional sports to developing therapeutic exercises that help students improve their balance and coordination.

Beyond simply developing physical fitness and motor skills, adapted PE aims to enhance social skills, self-esteem and overall quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

The Road to A&M-Commerce

Raised in nearby Lavon, Texas, Frisbie participated in the Pride Prep program at Community High School, providing her a direct pathway to attend A&M-Commerce. The program included dual-credit courses at Commerce High School and A&M-Commerce throughout her high school tenure.

Thanks to this early exposure, Frisbie began her full-time college experience classified as a sophomore.

“I was fully established with A&M-Commerce by my senior year in high school,” Frisbie recalls. “I liked the environment. It's spread out enough to feel like a big campus, but it's still a close community. Continuing my education here felt like the right thing to do.”

Discovering Adapted Physical Education

Frisbie said she always aspired to become a teacher and considered the special education field. At Community ISD, she partnered with special education students in her PE classes and volunteered in special education classes and events.

“I would also have lunch with the special education class or the life skills class,” she said. “I loved the environment, the students and everything about it.”

At A&M-Commerce, she chose to major in Kinesiology and Sports Studies with teaching emphasis.

“PE is supposed to be a student's favorite class, but a lot of people have had terrible experiences and memories about it,” she said. “They might avoid physical activity the rest of their lives because they have a negative psychological response based on their experiences. That really fuels my fire because I want to be the teacher that people remember for a good reason.”

Her path became clear when she attended Dr. Kelly Featherston's Adapted Physical Education class. She credits the course for broadening her perspective on adapted PE.

“On her second day in class, Katelyn had this ‘a-ha' moment,” Featherston recalls. “She said, ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I want to be.'”

Until then, Frisbie says, she had no idea that adapted PE was a career path.

“Taking that class and learning everything about adapted PE just made it all click for me,” she said. “Observing various Special Olympics events, and general education classes as well, really solidified my desire to pursue adapted PE as a career.”

Gaining Experience

It's important, Frisbie says, to dive deep into the field to better understand the challenges and rewards of working with special needs students. She continues to pursue opportunities that broaden her exposure to adapted PE and events for students with disabilities.

“Katelyn is very smart, humble and a hard worker,” Featherston said. “Every event we had last semester, she was there leading and excelling. It was really neat to witness that process.”

Frisbie said learning about adapted PE is relevant to all educators.

“If you're a teacher, these are concepts you need to understand,” she said. “It's not just about being an adapted PE teacher, it's also the effect that you can have with it and how you can apply that to your teaching no matter whether it's at the elementary, secondary or post-secondary level.”

Championing Accessible Sports

Frisbie advocates for accessible PE programs like unified sport events that mix students of all abilities together.

“I did a research project last semester on unified sports,” she said. “It was really cool to learn how many sports have unified Special Olympics sports. I'm excited that A&M-Commerce hosts events like that.”

A group of students playing basketball.
Students from Bonham ISD participate in a unified basketball event hosted at A&M-Commerce on Feb. 29. Photo by Chris Gage | Texas A&M University-Commerce Office of Marketing and Communications

She says inclusion is important because many people are not educated on disabilities and special education classes.

“I believe exposure to inclusive classes and events that integrate special education and general education students will create more understanding and empathy. I want to be the person who does that.”

Commerce ISD student Aiden Belanger said participating in sports has helped him learn sportsmanship, gain strength and become a team player.

“It helped me play better,” he said. “We are working as a team, and I enjoy being competitive.”

Frisbie said it takes passion and communication for communities and schools to provide these types of accessible activities.

“Dr. Featherston flourishes at these events. She's all over the place and so excited to do it,” Frisbie said. “So, it takes someone who is passionate and willing to take those first steps to communicate with schools and get the idea going.”

Encouraging Others and the Road Ahead

Reflecting on her experiences, Frisbie encourages students interested in adapted PE to gain as much exposure as possible.

“You can't just jump into it,” she said. “You need to be prepared to be an empathetic person, to be patient and understand what these students are going through. College is a chance to get that exposure without being nervous or feeling unsupported.”

As for her own career, Frisbie hopes to obtain a role as an elementary-level teacher after graduation.

“I know I have to start somewhere. I could start as a PE teacher or a life skills teacher, but the goal is to become an adapted PE teacher,” she said. “I'm passionate about it because I've had all these experiences and I'm ready for this to be my career.”

From there, Frisbie said it's possible to facilitate adapted PE at regional and national levels.

“I just love the environment and being with the kids. My goal is to keep moving up. I want to experience it all,” she said.

Are you interested in a fun and rewarding career in physical education? Check out opportunities available through the Department of Health and Human Performance at A&M-Commerce.