Michael Kelley, who has Down Syndrome, received the letter jacket as a gift to inspire him to keep playing basketball

By Kelli Bender
Updated March 28, 2015 12:50 PM

Michael Kelley of Wichita, Kansas, adores basketball.

The East High student, who has Down Syndrome and autism, plays on an extra-curricular special needs basketball team and was recently recognized by his school for his participation in the sport, reports KSN.

To encourage her adopted son’s passion, Jolinda Kelley bought Michael an East High varsity jacket and official letter for him to wear, just like the other players.

Soon after receiving the inspiring present, Michael started wearing the letter jacket to school. Sadly, Michael’s moment of pride was cut short.

“Another parent, from what I am told, was upset that my son was wearing his letter jacket,” Michael’s mother told KSN.

Following the anonymous parent’s wishes, the school asked Michael to remove his jacket and gave him a sweatshirt to wear for the rest of the day.

East High Principal Ken Thiessen said the school was just following policy, which states the official East High varsity letter is allowed to be worn only by athletes on varsity teams

When asked if the school would ever consider changing their policy to recognize special needs athletes, Thiessen said “We have considered it, and our decision was no. We decided that is not appropriate in our situation because it is not a varsity-level competition.”

Michael’s family is now working to change this discriminating policy, especially since other schools in the area allow the players on their school-sponsored special needs teams to earn varsity letters.

“It’s not just my son,” Jolinda said about what is driving her. “It’s every student that’s there on Fridays that plays their hardest and to the best of their capability regardless what that is.”

Jolinda is not alone in her fight, since the story broke thousands have gone online to show their support for Michael.

According to Uproxx, a change.org petition to “allow special needs students the opportunity to earn a varsity letter if they participate in a school sponsored team” at East High has garnered over 22,000 signatures, enough to send the issue to the Board of Education.

Others have been using the hashtag #GiveThemLetters on Twitter to raise awareness about Michael’s story and the need for a change.