Those Olympians are called ‘Special’ for a reason

Those Olympians are called ‘Special’ for a reason

An open letter to United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos:

Madam Secretary, I would like you to meet my good friend Jalee Foley.

No, she is not related to me. Well, at least she is not related to me close enough for me to know her at all until last May.

That’s when Jalee introduced herself as the Special Olympics Torch made its way into Butte, Montana, via the Law Enforcement Touch Run.

“Hey,” Jalee said as she walked up to me. “We have the same last name.”

Jalee paused for a minute, as if she was not sure I knew what she was talking about. Then she smiled and slowly said, “Foley.”

Since then, Jalee and I have become pals, and there is not a finer person around. With one look into her eyes, you can see that. Like the Special Olympians she competes with and against, Jalee’s eyes immediately give you a glimpse into the goodness that is in her heart.

Special Olympians, you see, are pure innocence, and they never try to hide or shy away from that awesome quality.

Jalee is a devoted Special Olympian, too.

When she’s not working hard as the trainer for Butte High’s basketball teams, Jalee is almost always training to compete in the Special Olympics.

It doesn’t matter if it is skiing, track, basketball or whatever, Jalee is prepared and ready to go.

Basketball seems to be Jalee’s favorite sport, and she will proudly play her heart out as a member of the Butte Rats when the Special Olympics basketball tournament comes to town later this year.

If she does not lead her team in scoring, you better believe she will be No. 1 in celebrations. Jalee celebrates the game like a champ.

You would know that if you saw her play to the crowd as she ran off the court following the Special Olympics portion of the Burgman/Boyle Alumni Classic last August at Butte High’s Richardson Gym. Jalee helped lead the Purple People Eaters to a 38-26 win over Team Awesome.

When you, Madam Secretary, proposed cutting all federal funding for the Special Olympics, you attacked Jalee, whether you meant to or not.

That is why I think you would really benefit from meeting her or some of the many of the other Special Olympians from every town in America.

Go watch a Special Olympics competition, and you will see an exhibition of sportsmanship at its finest. There is no cheating. No taunting. No steroids. It is just spirited competition where both sides leave the arena with a smile.

The Special Olympics are what all sports should be.

Actually, they are more than that. Those Olympians can give the rest of us examples of how we can all make the world a better place.

Special Olympians get along with everybody. They have no enemies.

In case you haven’t noticed, the political divide in our country grows larger by the day, and you, Madam Secretary, have constantly thrown gasoline on the flames of division.

This time, though, the rest of us are all on the same side opposing you. If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that the Special Olympics should continue to be the shining example of the human spirit.

Nobody wants to see those games go away. Nobody on the left, nobody on the right and nobody in between wants them cut back one cent.

Hopefully you got a sense of that when your boss threw you under the bus and reversed the decision to so callously cut the Special Olympics funding.

Facebook could not even get us to fight over that decision, and that says a lot.

One of my Facebook friend in particular loves to argue politics with me, and I’m not too hard to bate into an online sparing match. All of his political posts and comments make me want to pull my hair out, and I know the feelings are completely mutual.

Yet, when I announced I was taking part in the Torch Run for the Special Olympics last year, he was the first person I heard from. He sent me a pledge of $500 for the cause.

He said he did not want any fanfare or thank you notes. He said to just consider the money as a gift from a successful night playing cards.

My political opposite simply agreed that the gold, silver and bronze of the Special Olympics rise above the red and blue of our daily arguments.

The Special Olympics are so very important to the Special athletes, too. When they graduate from high school, there isn’t a whole lot out there to keep them busy, and their over-stressed parents can only do so much.

That’s where the Special Olympics come in. They help fill a major void in the lives of the athletes.

We need more Special events because the Special Olympics just make life so much better. They undoubtedly improve the lives of the Special Olympians along with those who are lucky enough to be touched by Olympians.

So, Madam Secretary, I dare you to come to town to meet Jalee. Or Zach Stenson. Or Cal Berryman. Or Peyton Tippet. Or Bryce Baily. Bryce is a young man so happy that you will instantly see why his nickname is “Smiley.”

You tweeted a while back that you did visit some Special Olympians, but you must not have paid attention. Otherwise, you never would have put your name behind that cruel proposed cut.

Putting the Special Olympians on the chopping block should have never been an option to any person, not even a person with a heart that is clearly three sizes too small.

I am sure you are well aware of the fact that you are a billionaire many times over. You could pay for the Special Olympics out of your own pocket, and for you it would not be as painful as a janitor throwing a couple of bucks in the collection plate on Sunday.

Actually, maybe you could dip into your personal pocket and double the annual budge for the Special Olympics.

You can certainly afford it. It also might be your only hope to stave off the incredibly horrible karma you have built up in the last week.

At the very least, though, go visit some Special Olympians. I mean truly visit with them.

Watch them play. Listen to there stories. Soak up their passion for life. Make sure you look deeply into their eyes and take in that innocence.

If really you do that, you will never think of cutting funding for the Special Olympics ever again.

You will probably find that going to the mirror to look into your own eyes will be much easier, too.

— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.

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