17-Year-Old With Down Syndrome Barred From Joining Cheer Squad, Told He 'Doesn't Fit the Image'
Glenn Wilson, 17, was originally told he had made the team.
All 17-year-old Glenn Wilson wanted to do was become a cheerleader, but he believes his Down syndrome is keeping him off the school team.
Glenn, a sophomore at West High School in Columbus, Ohio, and his family were told he made the team during tryouts last spring. But by the time the season began, Glenn was told he “did not fit the image” of the cheer squad and was barred from practices and games for the first half of the season, his uncle, Roy Valentine, told InsideEdition.com.
“He was devastated,” Valentine said. “He had still been practicing his cheers at home during the summer because he thought when school started, he was going to be a part of the team. That didn’t happen.”
He explained Glenn has always been interested in cheering, and was inspired at a young age by his cousins – Valentine’s sons – who did competitive cheerleading.
When Glenn learned he could become a cheerleader in high school partway through his freshman year, he was determined to try out for the following year.
“We were told he did very well,” Valentine recalled. “We had [school officials] all tell us last year, ‘Congratulations, he made the team.’”
The school told the family to expect a packet in the mail over the summer, which would include his cheer uniform and a schedule of practices.
But the packet never arrived, and on the first day of school, Valentine called the school directly and asked why. He said he tried to reach the school earlier but got no response since they were closed for summer holidays.
“It got a little heated,” he recalled. “[The head coach] advised me that she had removed Glenn from the cheerleading squad. When I questioned why, she told me that he did not fit the image she wanted the team to portray.”
Valentine said he was taken aback, but continued to ask questions.
“I asked her, ‘is it because he's a boy? Is it because he's overweight? Is it because he is biracial? Is it because he's openly gay?’” Valentine said. “When I said, ‘Is it because he has Down syndrome?’ she shut up.”
The coach responded that she didn’t have the qualifications or experience teaching special needs children, and felt it was best for everyone he be taken off the team, Valentine recalled.
Instead, Valentine said his nephew was offered a position on the squad as a manager, or as Valentine called it, a water boy.
Enraged, Valentine contacted higher authorities at the school, pleading his case. Each time, he said he was told they would uphold the coach’s decision.
School authorities changed their mind after Valentine spoke in front of the school board last week, allowing Glenn to cheer only at home games and giving him the practice schedule, but he said it’s too little, too late.
“Mind you, the season is half over,” Valentine said. “He had been scheduled to go to practice the week before, and when we showed up for practice, nobody was there. They had moved the practice to the night before without letting him know.”
Meanwhile, Valentine said his nephew is well-liked at school, and was even voted for Homecoming Court. He added that the rest of the cheer squad seems to be quite friendly toward Glenn.
“I would have hoped he would have been accepted as part of the team from the start,” Valentine said.
Valentine is now calling for the cheerleading coach to be terminated and for the school to review their policy on discrimination. School officials said they are monitoring the situation.
“We need to take a stand. These children can’t fight for themselves – they’re children, and in [Glenn’s] case, he has special needs,” Valentine said. “We’re going to get justice, not just for him but for all special needs children in this world.”
Columbus City Schools spokespeople told local news outlets Wilson is now a full member of the cheerleading team but admit that a mistake was made.
The school district has not returned messages left by InsideEdition.com.
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