High School Makes Basketball Player With Down Syndrome Remove Varsity Letter From His Jacket (VIDEO)

down syndrome child Michael Kelley with varsity letter

Michael Kelley is a student at Wichita East High School in Kansas. He also has Down syndrome and autism -- and competes on the special needs basketball team. Michael's mom, Jolinda, bought her son a varsity letter for his jacket to mark his accomplishments on the team. But according to Jolinda, another parent complained that he was wearing a varsity letter on his jacket because he doesn't compete on the varsity level. He was forced to remove it.


Just taking one look at Michael and his contagious smile wearing his jacket with such pride fills my heart with happiness. But not everyone feels the same way. When Michael wore his coat to school, he was asked to remove it and was given a girl's sweatshirt to wear instead.

I am not one of those moms who believes that we should coddle our kids and reward them with gifts or tokens for every thing they do. I do believe in recognizing good deeds and accomplishments, and this is a case where I feel Michael deserves to wear that letter.

People wear Michael Jordan jerseys and it doesn't mean they become Michael Jordan. It makes the wearer feel part of Jordan's team in a way, a supporter, someone they admire, and aspire to be like. Be like Mike. I think we should all aspire to be more like this Mike, Michael Kelley, our high school basketball player on the special needs team who plays his heart out. Also, what about all the girlfriends who so often wear their boyfriends' varsity jackets? Should there be a ban on that, too? Wouldn't want those girls to be mistaken for varsity level basketball or football.

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The school's principal Ken Thiessen said in an interview with KSN:

Teachers told the parents they would prefer he not wear the letter on his jacket. We have considered it, and our decision was no. We decided that it is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity level competition.

I'm so disappointed in this statement. Who is it hurting if Michael wears a varsity letter? No one. Why can't people see it as a celebration of all Michael does? And let's just think about who it hurts when Michael was stripped of his letter and told he cannot wear his jacket that he so proudly received as a gift from him mother? Michael. It hurts Michael. Where is the human kindness? Where is the acceptance and love? Where is the camaraderie?

I know how hard kids work to earn a varsity letter. I have one myself, and I am proud of it, along with the few other dusty accolades from high school all those years ago. But that pride should be shared with others. There is enough of it for everyone. Kids do deserve honorary awards for their achievements, and the spirit of that seems to be missing from Wichita East High School.

It needs to be noted that this isn't a district policy -- Wichita Northwest awards varsity letters to special needs students. But the principal and parents at East don't share that sentiment. And that's concerning. I can't help but repeat: Where is the human kindness? Where is the acceptance and love? Where is the camaraderie? What are we teaching our kids if we don't set good examples?

There is a Change.org petition happening now to hopefully allow the principal and complaining parents to see the error of their ways.

If there is anything I learned here, as a parent, is that I want to teach my kids to be like Mike, this Mike -- Michael Kelley, who sees the world through a much more beautiful lens than many of us. And I want to tell his mom, Jolinda, that she is doing a wonderful job. If only those who oppose Michael wearing his letter would as well.

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