Clerical error sidelining Special Olympics athlete

DORR TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Special Olympics athlete Amber VanDenBerg and her family are asking for changes after a clerical issue kept her from competing in a state championship game.

Special Olympics athletes are required to have a doctor sign off on an application every three years to be eligible to compete. Amber has been playing basketball through Special Olympics for eight years and has an application that is still valid for nearly two more years.

However, the state office says they never received a copy, so Amber isn’t eligible to compete with the Holland Hoopsters at the state championship tournament at Calvin College this weekend.

Amber and her mother Jacqueline received the news when they got to practice last week.

“I was told that she was a liability, which I was a little surprised about, and that -- the word was used -- that she was banned from Special Olympics, and all of this I didn’t know anything about,” said Jacqueline.

At the local level, Amber’s application meant she was cleared through December 2020. The problem is at the state level, where officials say they didn’t receive any application.

Aaron Mills, a Special Olympics Michigan spokesperson, said the organization needs to receive proof of physical forms once a team advances to a state level competition.

“Amber’s physical form somehow got misplaced somewhere at the local level, which is very unfortunate,” Mills said, “but we needed to stick to our deadline. So, unfortunately Amber is unable to compete at the state finals with her teammates.”

He said Special Olympics Michigan has a form for Amber VanDenBerg that was valid through 2018, and he suspects local officials misplaced the new document.

By the time the error was noticed, it was too late for this weekend’s competition.

“It’s one of those things where a deadline is set for a reason,” Mills said. “There are rules for a reason, and so we can’t make an exception for one person and then make an exception for the other 499 that are competing at the state finals as well.”

Jacqueline VanDenBerg says she wishes she knew about the issue earlier and could have easily fixed it. Instead, she says her daughter is being punished for someone else’s mistake. “None of this information was communicated through, and that’s the sad thing because there was no reason that it couldn’t have been provided.”

The state championship game will be held this weekend at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Jacqueline says her family won’t attend, because it’s too difficult to explain why her daughter can’t play with her team, and she will just be more upset.

She will have to wait until next fall to play again.

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