Friday, March 27, 2015

Wichita High School is right to withhold varsity letter from anyone not on the varsity team

...even if they're mentally disabled. You can read the story here.

Here's a quote from the kid's Mom, which you can read near the bottom of the article: "It's not just my son. It’s every student that was out there last night. It’s every student that’s there on Fridays that plays their hardest and to the best of their capability regardless what that is.”

Sorry, but I'm with the school on this one, for the precise reason his Mom identifies: it's not just about this kid. Varsity letters do not go to anyone who "plays their hardest." They go to anyone who made the varsity team, and by any other standard they cease to be a distinguishing trademark of that accomplishment. The varsity team at this school won the state championship this year: a serious accomplishment, which would be watered down were the letters afforded to anyone who "plays their hardest". Not everyone gets a trophy in life. Doing your best is not an achievement worthy of a prize, even for people we feel sympathy for.

If you disagree and think I'm an asshole, I have some questions. Should every student in the entire school by allowed to wear a varsity letterman's jacket too? Or every student who tried out? Or should the school have to make case-by-case adjudications about which students are sufficiently handicapped to warrant exceptions? What if someone has high-functioning autism or Aspergers - do they 'count'? What if they're mind is normal but they have a physical disability? Does it depend on the disability? Should the kid with no legs get a varsity letter, but not the kid with 7 fingers? What if they have no disabilities, but just had a super hard upbringing in desolate poverty? What if they had abusive parents, and merely did better on the intramural team than would have been expected given the circumstances? Where do you draw the line? Even if you feel bad for the kid, can you see how a rule of "if you're on the varsity team, you can wear the varsity letter, and if you're not, you can't" is the only sensible and enforceable policy for a school processing thousands of students?

Besides, parading this kid around as a varsity athlete - when everyone (including the kid himself) knows he isn't - because it's cute and we feel bad for him and "bless his heart" seems patronizing to me, almost like they're making fun of him with a wink-and-a-nod behind his back. To me, treating him like an equal with the same rules everyone else plays by actually affords him more dignity and respect. The school can and should provide a supportive and inclusive environment for special needs students without lying to them about what they've accomplished. Maybe elect the kid homecoming king or something that merely denotes popularity from the student body. That way you can shower him with love, not fake accolades.

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