For Pete's Sake

Support for Wichita East special-needs basketball player comes from across the nation

Twitter screenshot

The story about the Wichita East special-needs basketball player and his varsity letter went viral Friday.

Michael Kelley’s mother told KSN-TV in Wichita that her son, a basketball player who has Down syndrome, was told to remove his letter jacket (which the family had bought) because he had a varsity letter but didn’t play on the varsity team.

The school’s principal, Ken Thiessen, told the Wichita Eagle on Saturday that no one told Michael to remove the jacket, and that any interaction happened more than a year ago.

Regardless of the time of the event, this is the key: Thiessen told KSN that the school had considered letting special-needs students wear the letters, but it was “not appropriate because it’s not a varsity-level competition.”

That’s what enraged most of the country.

The Eagle reported that students who participate on the special-needs basketball team are awarded a letter, but one that looks different than the one for varsity athletes.

But a petition to allow special-needs students the opportunity to earn a varsity letter if they participate on a school-sponsored team had more than 30,000 supporters as of Saturday afternoon.

On Twitter, at least two hashtags were born. There was #LetMichaelLetter:

This was addressed to the mayor of Danbury, Conn.

The other hashtag was #GiveThemLetters:

As a blogger, I’m inundated with literally a dozen comments every year, but I heard from quite a few people around the country.

Ellen Davidson of Andover, Mass., wrote in an e-mail:

“Might I suggest that all athletes remove their letters from their jackets as a form of respect for their fellow student? You have the stage now. Show the world that you, the future of your community, have the courage and humanity to do what’s right in the face of very bad decisions. Don’t do the ‘I did what I was told.’ Do ‘I did what was right.’ You have the world watching and supporting you. Go for it! Make a statement.”

An e-mail writer from Illinois suggested that high school varsity teams across the nation send letters to Michael and his teammates.

Another message, this one from Daryl Miser, offered to make a letter for Michael and his peers.

That was kind of how most people feel about this.

The Wichita Eagle reported that the online petition was started by East High School senior Libby Hastings, who will present it to Wichita school board members Monday.

To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @pgrathoff.

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