Special Olympians will be presented with varsity letters at high school

KEARNEY, Mo. (WDATV4) — At one high school in the metro, they're going the extra mile to honor special needs athletes.

Special Olympians at Kearney High School will soon be presented with varsity letters. School district leaders say this is the next step in honoring Special Olympians.

Educators at Kearney High School were already planning a celebratory banquet for their 12 special needs athletes. Awarding them a varsity letter seemed like the logical thing to do.

There's a new target on the horizon for these special stars.

For the first time, Kearney High School will award its Special Olympics athletes with varsity letters. This would stand in contrast to the case at Wichita East High School, where one autistic student athlete was ordered to remove his varsity basketball letter because he actually played for the school's special needs team.

On Monday, that district's school board voted to allow him to wear the letter.

"We said, ‘we hadn't really thought about awarding varsity letters at the banquet, but why not?" Jacque Banks, Kearney Schools Assistant Superintendent, said.

Banks says district leaders were aware of the Wichita case, and saw this as a chance to do right by special needs people.

"We have come together to support families who have students with special needs," Banks added. "This community works hard to embrace kids with unique needs and to see that their needs are met."

Banks says a local embroidery shop worked with district leaders to ensure the kids would receive their letters at no cost. For Special Olympians and their families, the varsity letters represent a chance to show they're equal to other athletes.

"Good," Jacob Willi, Kearney Special Olympian, said, when asked how he felt about the new recognition.

"They see the big guys and girls walking around the hallways with the letter jackets on and they hold them to high esteem," Tricia Brown, whose son is a Special Olympian from Kearney High School, said. "For them to be able to experience that, it's just a beautiful thing."

The athletes will get their awards at a special banquet on May 18th.

City officials in Kearney are also planning their annual "Paint the Park" celebration for this Saturday. That annual celebration also recognizes special needs children, offering them a day of fun in their honor.