Special Olympics organizers respond to potential $18 million budget cuts

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – On Wednesday morning, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of the United State Department of Education, faced heavy criticism on Capitol Hill for the administration’s proposed budget cuts.

Namely, the call to slash all federal funding for Special Olympics – $18 million in total reductions.

“I would hate to see opportunities get cut for them to make that impact in other people’s lives,” said Cameron Levis, a Special Populations Instructor for the Bowling Green Parks and Rec.

Special Olympics has affected the lives of so many individuals since its founding in 1968.

The organization gives athletes with disabilities a chance to compete in a variety of sports against other individuals who deal with the same kind of daily challenges. The same can be said for those athletes here in southcentral Kentucky.

“We’ve made it a staple and a focus of what we want to do as a department and providing programming for those individuals to show the community what they can do,” added Levis. “And to give them the opportunities we all have, and we all deserve to have.”

Those opportunities could become far more limited if DeVos’ proposed cut in Special Olympics funding goes into effect.

“I would hate to see this program die out because of lack of interest in funding every year,” said Margie Clevenger, a Special Educator and Special Olympics coach with the Bowling Green Independent School District.

DeVos was thoroughly questioned about the cuts by a Democratic-led panel on Capitol Hill, with one representative asking if DeVos knew how many children would have to face the repercussions of such a large reduction in funding.

“Do you know how many kids are going to be affect by that cut, Madame Secretary,” asked Wisconsin Democratic Representative Mark Pocan.

“Mr. Pocan, let me just say again, we had to make some difficult decisions with this budget,” DeVos responded.

Pocan, though, frustrated by her answer.

“Again, this is a question about how many kids, not the budget,” said Pocan. “It’s 272,000 kids. I’ll answer it for you. It’s okay.”

Margie Clevenger has worked with Special Olympics and its athletes for 18 years now, so she knows how devastating it would be for these individuals to lose out on the chance to play the sports they love so much.

“To take that away from them or either decrease the opportunities for them to do that, I just think that would be a shame,” she said.

Levis shared a similar feeling.

“Those individuals, if they didn’t have [Special Olympics], how much would that affect our mission, and just showing the world how awesome and how much value people with disabilities have in our lives,” he said.

Regardless of what happens with the funding, Levis vowed that it won’t change their mission of continuing to provide opportunities for disabled individuals to showcase their skills and be involved in sports and competition.