Special Olympian gets a varsity letter from Salem High School
It's always been a tradition that high school athletes who achieve certain goals or meet certain requirements get a varsity letter.
That honor is now being extended to a young man in Salem who plans to wear his letter proudly.
William Champlin is an accomplished athlete and has the medals to prove it.
"Ever since William joined Special Olympics, the progress that he has made has been amazing and I am just so proud of him," Lori McLaughlin, Columbiana Coordinator for Special Olympics said. "It brings them out of their shell and gives them an opportunity to be with other people and have a great time."
Previously, varsity letters were only given to Salem's traditional athletes but this year, after a request by William's mother, the district approved letters for athletes who complete an entire season of a Special Olympics sport.
William competes in golf and track and this week received his letter from Salem Schools Superintendent Sean Kirkland.
"I have a nephew that graduated from Salem City Schools that participated in Special Olympics and probably the only thing within that first few seconds that I thought about other than yes, was just like, why haven't we thought about this before and disappointed that we hadn't," Kirkland said.
William has been competing in golf and track since he was nine and is the first Special Olympian from Salem to get a letter. Kirkland says he won't be the last.
"This is a no-brainer," Kirkland said. "This is something that is just a feel good story that we should have done a long time ago and so hopefully everyone will follow suit."
"Special Olympics has helped William to really blossom socially," Stephanie Champlin, William's mother said. "He was pretty shy when he was younger and it has opened up his world to some competitiveness and socializing with peers of all ages at different meets around the county and it has just been a wonderful program. The thing I love about Special Olympics is it's specific to the individual. They find whatever meets the need within the sport that the athlete can do and it very much is an individualized program."
William's letter sends a strong message of inclusion and empowers these special athletes to realize anything is possible.
"William loves being a Salem Quaker," Champlin said. "It just means so much to him to be included in this school and to know that his participation in Special Olympics is now recognized at Salem High School. It means so much more than just a letter on his jacket, it means they are recognizing the hard work he does outside of school, Special Olympics is a modified arena for him to participate in the sports that his typical peers at school are participating in and it's nice to know that his achievements are acknowledged the same way as his peers. I'm excited for him and I'm excited about what this means for the future for other athletes. It opens up opportunities for everyone and I hope that people are encouraged by seeing this story and other schools follow suit. I know there are athletes that are able to participate in their home district and you know they should be recognized for the great contribution that they are making to their school's athletic program."
Kirkland and Champlin hope other school districts will implement the same policy to reward Special Olympians who work so hard to achieve their goals.