Unfathomable: Special needs student forced to remove letterman jacket

Life is full of rules to be followed, many for good reason. But in the case of a special needs student at Wichita East High School, it’s hard to see the logic in adhering to this one.

As reported by KSN television in Wichita, Kansas, Michael Kelley has been asked not to wear the varsity letter his mother bought for his letterman jacket. Kelley plays basketball for Wichita East, but not the varsity team. Michael, who has Down syndrome and autism, plays on the school’s special needs team.

At least one East parent complained when Kelley wore the official school varsity letter. Several teachers voiced similar concerns. And the school backed the parent and teachers, requiring Michael to remove his jacket while at school.

It wasn’t a seat-of-the-pants decision, either. School administrators had pondered the issue previously and decided that non-varsity players had no business wearing a varsity letter.

"We have considered it, and our decision was no," Ken Thiessen, principal at Wichita East, told KSN. "That is not appropriate."

So, score one for Northwest and scold East — which, by the way, just won the Class 6A state championship in boys basketball. But really, in the case of Michael Kelley, the rule itself is beside the point. What matters here — what should always matter in high school sports — is sportsmanship. And compassion.

What Michael does — playing a game for the love of it at the highest level of which he is capable — is worthy of respect.


Michael, his teammates and their families should be so lucky.

Change.org is sponsoring a petition to get Wichita East to change its policy regarding special needs students and varsity letters. To read and consider the petition, click here.

You can follow Mike Nahrstedt on Twitter at @MikeNahrstedt or email him at mike.nahrstedt@foxsports.net.