The pettiness of high school sports knows no bounds.
This is the story of Michael Kelley, a boy who loves playing basketball, a boy who just wants to have fun. Kelley has Down Syndrome and autism, and unfortunately that prevents him from playing varsity sports at Wichita East High School. But Kelley still wanted to play, he still wanted to participate in the sport he loved. So he joined the school’s special needs basketball program. And he liked it. In fact, from the looks of it, he loved it. Michael enjoyed himself. Michael was a happy kid.
His parents saw his happiness, wanted to encourage him further – so they bought him a varsity letter jacket. A jacket all the other athletes at Wichita East High School wore.
And that’s where this story takes an unbelievably sad turn. You see, one parent, one awful, awful human being complained to the school about Michael Kelley. They believed Kelley didn’t deserve a varsity letter. In short, they believed Michael didn’t earn the right to wear it. The school responded by forcing Michael to take off the jacket. They gave him a sweat shirt to wear instead.
Principal Ken Thiessen weighed-in saying, extra curricular special needs programs did not constitute “varsity level competition.” He was adamant too. Said the school considered it but ultimately said “no.” Above all, this was Thiessen’s decision and his decision alone. There was no district wide policy in place. There was no rule against special needs students earning a varsity letter. This was a rule enforced by Wichita East High School at the behest of an angry parent.
After KSN-TV’s story, social media went to work. It started with a handful of tweets.
As an educator, I live for students’ equality as humans and learners. The past is the past, now lets do the right thing and #GiveThemLetters
— Nathanael Harvey (@NharveyPsychSoc) March 28, 2015
And now, less than 48 hours later, a change.org petition has garnered 20,000 signatures. The issue is headed to the board of education.
All this because a kid who loves basketball and participates in a school-sponsored program wasn’t given a varsity letter. All this because there’s a parent out there who believes Michael Kelley’s efforts aren’t the same as their son or daughter.