It doesn’t matter if Denver’s Kristen Hamilton scores a game-winning goal or even notches a hat trick in a game, she knows her seven-year-old brother Simon will be the center of attention at the Pioneers’ postgame tailgate party … and that’s perfectly okay with her.

Hamilton, a junior forward from Littleton, Colo., was a 13-year-old freshman in high school when Simon was born seven years ago with Down Syndrome. She and her older sister Nicole assisted their parents in caring for Simon – babysitting, feeding him or just playing ball with him. Hamilton admits it was difficult at first, but having a special needs brother taught her responsibility and their close relationship has benefitted her in the long run.

As Hamilton got older, she began looking at colleges, first thinking she would want to go out of state. 

“I would travel and be away for just a weekend, and I would be homesick,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t like the thought of constantly being away, and not being around for Simon to watch him grow up. If I was home, I’d be able to hang out with him and take him to the park, and be closer to him and my family.”

Hamilton chose to attend Denver – just 20 minutes from home. Just far enough away for the full college experience, but close enough to zip home if her family needs her. 

Soccer-wise, Hamilton seems to have made the right choice with Denver. As a freshman, she made an immediate impact, contributing seven goals and eight assists to the Pioneers offense. Last season, Hamilton became Denver’s go-to-girl as she racked up 16 goals and nine assists and was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year while the previous season’s leading scorer (Kaitlin Bast) sat out with an injury. 

I didn’t like the thought of constantly being away, and not being around for Simon to watch him grow up. If I was home, I’d be able to hang out with him and take him to the park, and be closer to him and my family.
-- Kristen Hamilton

“Her presence on the field began growing then, and now they kind of have an attacking support system,” Denver head coach Jeff Hooker said. “No one really cares who scores the goals as long as we keep winning. Their unselfishness has been a key to our success.”

Hamilton leads the Pioneers with 12 goals and 28 points this season, including four game-winners, as the squad enters the final weekend of regular season play with a 12-1-4 record and in contention for the Western Athletic Conference title.

“She’s a very strong physical player,” Hooker said. “She’s not that tall (five-foot-three) and she has to use her body to initiate some of that contact. She’s got some great core strength in her legs and upper body and is very quick and fast. She’s got some great speed and can run past people. She has a good balance and can score all types of goals, which makes her a little more difficult to mark.”

Hamilton ranks sixth on Denver’s all-time charts in points and goals with 91 and 35, respectively.

While Simon cheers for his sister – and their father Craig helps him locate her No. 17 jersey on the field, he is generous with his support of Hamilton’s teammates as well.

“He loves all the girls,” Hamilton said. “He loves the attention … he is our biggest fan. He comes to our games and runs up and hugs everyone. He never fails to put a smile on the whole team’s face. It is really nice for him, and I know a lot of the girls have mentioned to me how happy they are whenever they get a chance to see him.”

“Simon is an enthusiastic and a very excitable young man,” Craig Hamilton said. “He does have a special bond with all the girls.  He’s been to enough games now that he knows he is in a welcome place.”

Hamilton and three of her teammates -- Nicholette DiGiacomo, Shannen Johnson and Jessy Battelli – have been playing together since they were 10 years old. 

“It is very unique, because Kristen has all these friends who have known Simon for years,” Hooker said. “For him, it is awesome to get to a game where he is not just watching his sister, but several of her friends. It’s a great support system for him.”

When Hamilton gets free time to spend some time at home and with Simon, the siblings love playing sports together and just hanging out. 

“They love to play baseball together,” Craig Hamilton said. “Simon can really hit the ball well. They play a little bit of soccer together. He loves sports of all kinds – he can throw a Frisbee really well, he loves soccer, swimming, baseball.”

When Simon becomes old enough, Hamilton wants to be his coach in the Special Olympics, and is already looking into volunteer opportunities for the organization.

“Simon gives me an appreciation for life, because I see how happy he is every single day no matter what is going on in his life,” Hamilton said. “It makes you realize that some things are worth getting upset over.” 

Denver travels to Idaho on Friday and Seattle University on Sunday to finish out the WAC regular season. The Pioneers are currently 4-0-2 in league play, and sit a half game behind Utah State (5-0-2), which has one game remaining against Louisiana Tech on Sunday.