I am the parent of a special needs child who is currently in the eighth grade. Beginning in the fifth grade, my son began trying out for the basketball and baseball teams the Howell K-8 School District offers as part of its extracurricular program.
His first experience in the fifth grade where 15 students tried out for the basketball team and 10 (not including my son) were accepted was the beginning of a series of disappointments. How ashamed the district should have felt for intentionally excluding these five elementary students from an activity that would have boosted their self-esteem, fostered teamwork and produced friendships.
In middle school, my son again tried out for the basketball team in the fall and was again emotionally beat down by the rules and regulations surrounding the sport. When this was repeated in the seventh grade, I called and pleaded with (school officials) to change the process so that all may participate. Their response was to suggest my son join the track and field team despite the fact that I mentioned he has no interest in that particular pursuit.
This school year, determined and driven to succeed, my son spent an increased amount of time practicing and preparing for tryouts. In fact, he was so motivated that he spent his own money, hard earned from doing chores, on appropriate equipment for the events (batting gloves, a speed hitter, a helmet and new sneakers). He was informed that he would need an aluminum bat for baseball tryouts and that was purchased also.
It seems to me that requiring students to obtain a very expensive piece of equipment when they are not guaranteed a spot on the team is a very bad practice indeed. Sadly, despite all these efforts, my son was met with the same results in regard to (basketball and baseball) and I was once again responsible for picking up the pieces of my child’s self-worth that the school district completely disregarded.
I implore (school district administrators) to think less of a winning season and more of the joy and fulfillment that can and should be the central focus of elementary school and middle school athletic teams. I ask that they offer the benefits of being part of a team to all students in all activities.
Consider that special needs students need to feel important in a world where they face so many struggles on a daily basis. Give them the opportunity to broaden their horizons and further themselves. As the teacher helps them maximize their skill potential in the classroom, allow the coaches to provide the same service outside the classroom.
All (my son) wanted was to belong to a group of peers that share the same interests as him. He wanted a team jersey with his name on the back and a chance to feel empowered for a few short moments in his lifetime. It truly does not seem like so much to ask. I am utterly saddened that my son will graduate from the Howell school district with memories of failure, rejection and exclusion.