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BLOOMINGTON — Supporters of Special Olympics Illinois are reacting favorably to a new movie that challenges stereotypes of people who are disabled.

“The Ringer,” which opened locally last Friday, is about a young man (Johnny Knoxville) who pretends to be a Special Olympics athlete as a way to make money. But his competitors see through the guise, work with him to make him a better athlete, and pit him against the competition’s best athlete during the pentathalon.

“I think it will break down some stereotypes that (the disabled) can’t do the same things as everyone else,” said Michele Henson, who directs communications and publications for Normal-based Special Olympics Illinois. She thinks the movie will make people realize they can be friends with people who have intellectual disabilities and “bring about some inclusion” for them.

The movie’s backers brought their idea to Special Olympics several years ago, and organizers saw a rough screening in October 2004. The film is promoted on Special Olympics Web sites, and Special Olympics likewise is promoted on the movie Web site.

El Paso Police Chief Jeff Price, who helps raise money for Special Olympics with its annual law enforcement torch run, watched the movie with his wife Bonnie, her brother Greg and his sister Judy.

Greg has Down syndrome; Judy also has delays, Price said.

Initially, Jeff and Bonnie both were a little concerned about the movie and the audience’s reaction, particularly because Greg and Judy are “very aware” when people talk about them or make fun of them.

But “they didn’t find it offensive at all,” Bonnie Price said. “They see themselves and identify” with some of the characters.

Most people were “surprised at how well (the movie) was done and … surprised at how well Special Olympics participants can do” in athletics and in life, Hensen said. The movie’s athletes were portrayed by Special Olympians from Texas, she said. “Our athletes can do all sorts of things.”

Special Olympics Illinois lists several classroom suggestions on its Web site if teachers want to use the movie as a jumping-off point for discussions of diversity. The Special Olympics offices are closed for the holidays and Hensen hadn’t know whether any schools were implementing the lessons.

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