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Special Olympics Athletes Want Return to Normalcy

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Some 250 people put the pressure on Special Olympics officials last night. Two weeks after the San Diego office was shut down -- and staff members were forced out on leave -- the athletes want a return to normal. KPBS reporter Andrew Phelps talked to some of those athletes.

One by one, Special Olympics athletes faced the crowd and grabbed a microphone. They demanded answers from the people who make the decisions. The charity's administrators won't say why they're investigating the local director, Walter Jackson, and his assistant. It's not a criminal investigation, but Jackson is on paid leave. That angers Mia Ford.

Ford : He's a nice guy. And I really like him. And I like the way he does business. At the banquet, he would dance funny. Yeah.

Jackson has worked at Special Olympics for more than 30 years. Athletes describe him like a family member. Regional managers say the problem is administrative, not personal.

These athletes have become unlikely activists. They have learning disabilities, and they're usually shy. One parent said this protest is an outlet for the athletes, who are supervised every moment of every day. Athlete Sharon Ketteringham spoke to that.

Ketteringham : They are mad. They are upset. They want their voice heard. I want people to know about my voice, too. We got voices. We can't be shy all the time. We have to break out and say what we want.

Officials in the state office continue to apologize for all the trouble. They met with Jackson earlier this week, but won't say if he'll stay or go. Many volunteers say if Jackson goes, they'll go, too.

Andrew Phelps, KPBS News.

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