The Special Olympics program is bracing to lose $18 million in federal funding under President Trump's proposed education budget. Local students are preparing to perform in a Special Olympics talent competition, just one example of how vital these opportunities are for them.
Henry Weathers, 16, cannot wait to show his singing skills to the world. It will be one of the highlights of his time at Western Heights High School.
“If there were no Special Olympics, I would probably be so miserable,” Henry said.
He is among the 272,000 kids whose lives would change without the Special Olympics' federal funding.
“Instead of just sitting at a desk looking at a piece of paper, it brings them to life,” said special education paraprofessional Doya Cole. “I’ve got a little girl that’s nonverbal, it brings her to life. She sings with us.”
“We are involved with the Special Olympics from the first day of school to the last day of school,” Western Heights special education teacher Elizabeth Bley said.
Many participants go on to develop skills and make friendships that last through adulthood. The federal budget is not set in stone yet, but families are urging the Department of Education to continue supporting opportunities to succeed.
“This is not a program that can stop, because it is so vitally important to those students,” Bley said.
The Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma released the following statement concerning the potential financial cuts:
"This funding cut not only puts a financial strain back on the parents, but also an emotional strain on athletes who love to be part of a community of their peers. Special Olympics is a wonderful program which gives our members opportunities to be included in communities and for their abilities and achievements to be acknowledged. As an organization we support Special Olympics and without it individuals with Down syndrome would not have opportunities to compete in sporting events and activities. It empowers our athletes and gives them pride and confidence they otherwise would not receive or be recognized for. Most of all, it allows our kids to be seen as the individuals they are, as well as their strengths, and not be seen as having Down syndrome. Special Olympics is more than the games, it’s an extended family. DSACO will continue to always advocate for acceptance and inclusion, which is what Special Olympics is all about."
You can see the talents of students from five schools around the metro as they participate in the Special Olympics art and music competition from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Thursday, March 28 at the Western Heights High School gymnasium.