Wichita East's Scarlet Letter

04/01/2015 08:35 am ET | Updated May 31, 2015

I played three varsity sports during high school. I have three letters, a bunch of pins and a black and orange letterman jacket.

Do you know where my "awards" sit now? Stuffed in a trunk down in the basement with the rest of my athletic trophies and awards.

I'm not going to try and take away from the hard work and effort it took to make varsity. It certainly felt good at the time to earn those trophies, letters and pins.

But you know what felt better?

The friendships, lessons, and the way my community came together to witness my team's various sporting achievements.

When I read that Wichita East High School student Michael Kelley was told he couldn't wear a letterman jacket his mother made him, because he wasn't technically on varsity--Let's just say I'm glad I wasn't on the school committee who heard from the parent who voiced their concerns over an autistic and Down syndrome student wearing a varsity letter.

The parent, and Principal Ken Thiessen who backed the original complaint when he told a local news station that Michael couldn't wear the jacket because he wasn't on varsity, completely missed an opportunity to strengthen their community.

Does it really matter that a special needs student is wearing a letterman jacket? Hell, would it even matter if the entire student body wore letterman jackets?


We place so much emphasis on materialistic items, on creating statistics, on buying the biggest house, having the best car. Who cares?

When I croak, my grandkids may or may not enjoy rummaging through my trunk of useless crap. The items inside certainly don't define me.

I'm guessing what they will remember, as I do with my own grandparents is the moments.

Tandem water skiing with my grandfather at the lake, eating my grandmother's chicken fricassee, listening to my grandfather laugh watching Johnny Carson and cringing when he would repeat jokes read from Reader's Digest.

The look of pure joy on Michael Kelley's face when he wore his homemade varsity jacket should have told this parent something. It should have inspired the principal to stand up to the complaint.

Instead Thiessen's original instinct was to side with the parent only to later try and amend things by saying Michael was later allowed to wear the jacket.

His attempt at smoothing things over only reinforced the issue. In a letter posted tothe school website he brags about the school; it's the best, the largest! There is diversity! As a leader he can take criticism! I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts! Our student athletes competed with gusto! Our students work hard to earn the letters, medallions, honor cords and other visible symbols that represent their achievements!

What a bunch of dribble.

Own it. Apologize. Instead Thiessen tried to overcompensate for the lack of common sense by throwing out a bunch of overused words, adjectives and accolades.

"For those of you who don't know East High, please take an opportunity to learn about us before you judge us based on one story," Thiessen said.

You're right, I don't know you. I'm sure there are many lovely people that live in your community.
But because of one parent, who I'm guessing felt their child's varsity accomplishment was somehow minimized by Michael wearing a letterman jacket...all I see is a self-pronounced leader who still doesn't recognize his lack of action ruined what should have been a beautiful moment.