'Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt'

SUTHERLIN, Ore. - Dony Knight stepped to the podium and gave a speech as he accepted the Lou Burge Special Olympic Athlete of the Year Award in Portland.

"Let me win," Knight said, "but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt."

One of the people Knight thanked in his speech was Matt Parrish, special education teacher at Sutherlin High School.

"It's something that Dony will never forget," Parrish said.

Knight credits some of his accomplishment to Parrish's class.

"I want to be independent," Knight said. "I work as a team."

Parrish sums up his objective: "Teaching them to be the best person they can be, especially after they leave here."

And that's the ultimate goal: teaching students the social and life skills they need to be successful in their community.

Sutherlin School District has a reputation in Oregon for special education success. One way the district ensures a smooth transition for students after high school is partnering with the local grocery store for a work experience program.

Knight and his classmates come to Shop Smart during school hours to organize shelves and collect carts.

"You have to have a connection and you have to be active because it keeps you healthy," Parrish said.

Sutherlin also works to integrate special ed students into general education classes.

"It's not really a separated idea," Parrish said, "and I think that's what you have to have."

There are 10 different categories a special education student can fall under in order for the school to receive extra state funding, including autism and intellectually disabilities like Down syndrome.

The state gives schools double the funding for a special needs student, but just up to 11 percent of the student population.

The money pays for instructional assistants, speech therapists, assistive technology and other services.

Knight and his classmates also participate in Special Olympics. Knight plays short stop and third base.

But he also serves as the Sutherlin High School varsity baseball team assistant.

And with his statewide recognition, he'll graduate high school as a leader, too.

"Remember never to give up!" Knight told the Portland audience. "Thank you."