Some fans still worried about proposed cuts to Special Olympics program

EAST MOLINE, Illinois-- On Friday, March 29, two teams hit the court at UTHS. The UT Panthers were taking on the Rock Island Rocks in a Special Olympics basketball game.

Julie Sweeney was in the stand to cheer on her nephew Colin, number 33 for the Rocks.

"They feel like they are real basketball players, and they are!" she says. "My nephew didn't have any athletic ability and no confidence whatsoever. But what happened with this gentleman who has volunteered to coach them... all of these kids have confidence. They feel like they're important."

But Sweeney says she's furious after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos considered cutting $17.6 million in federal funding for Special Olympics, a sports and educational program for people with intellectual disabilities.

"I was furious. I'm still furious. Until we see how it pans out, I'm going to be furious," Sweeney says.

At the other end of the bleachers Friday night, Pam Curlis is cheering on her students. She's the transportation director at UT.

"Oh, (the cuts are) not gonna happen," she says. "No. I think there will be such an uproar in this country. It just can't happen."

Since DeVos's proposed cuts came to light, there has been backlash from both sides of the aisle. On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared the cuts wouldn't happen. Previously, the Trump administration had tried cutting Special Olympics funding every year of his presidency.

"We'll see if it happens," Sweeney says. "If he does that (stops the cuts), that's wonderful. If he doesn't, I feel bad for him."

Special Olympics reports about 10 percent of its revenue comes from the federal government, saying in a statement, "U.S. Government funding for our education programming is critical to protecting and increasing access to services for people with intellectual disabilities."

The federal funding provides educational services in schools to support "the development of children with special needs." Special Olympics says three million young people participate in its programs.

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