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Don't Give Varsity Letters to Special Needs Players

Let me start by saying that I have a disability myself. It's a physical disability, and one that has kept me from playing sports my whole life. In high school, I wanted to do nothing more than to do what all the other girls did, and that was to play volleyball. However, my disability left me with arms that are crippled and hang limply at my side —volleyball was just not in the cards for me.

RELATED: We All Have a Disability

I learned early on that there are plenty of things I can do, even though there are lots of things that I can't. I learned that even though I might love to do something very much, and I may work very hard, I may never excel at it. So when I hear about this mother who bought her son (who plays sports on the special needs team, which has no varsity level) a letter jacket with a varsity letter, it makes me sad. No doubt that the boy—who has Down Syndrome—plays just as hard as the boys on the varsity team, but that letter represents a skill level, not an effort level. Her son has not achieved the skill level necessary to wear that letter.

Just because a person is incapable of earning something doesn't mean we should give it to them out of kindness

When somebody who has not earned something is given it just so they can feel part of the group, it cheapens that reward for everybody, including the disabled student who received it. I didn't play sports, but I did play the trumpet. And it's because of issues like this that I could never be quite sure how good I actually was. I received awards and scholarships and invitations to special events where I would play my music. Sadly, I was never sure if I was being offered these opportunities and accolades because I was just that good, or because people wanted me to feel nice.

Our attempts to include persons with disabilities sometimes go too far. Of course, I'm not speaking about the necessities of life—if someone can't earn their food or their housing, and we have the means to help them, then of course we should; but let's not cheapen achievements. Just because a person is incapable of earning something doesn't mean we should give it to them out of kindness. Really, it isn't kind at all. This isn't inclusion; it's condescension.

RELATED: What Not to Say to Moms of Kids with Special Needs

The mother claimed they asked the student to remove his jacket at the game. If so, that was heavy-handed and foolish. They should have spoken to the mother about her decision later, and not in public view. Since this story went viral, the school has decided to award varsity letters to students with disabilities. The same letter than the actual varsity team receives. It's a shame, in my opinion. The answer here is not to cheapen awards by giving them to kids who have not achieved the designated skill level. Give the kids on the special needs teams their own letters. But let's not ruin it for everyone by throwing all standards out the window.

Image via Flickr/Keith Jenkins

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