Many of us read about the high school athlete with Down syndrome, Eric Dompierre, who was on the basketball team at his high school. Unfortunately, he will be unable to play his senior season because the Michigan High School Athletic Association bars anyone who is 19 as of September 1 from participating in sports for that school year. The young man has requested a waiver based on language used by eight other states that includes age role exceptions for students with disabilities.
In order to be eligible to participate in Pennsylvania, you must not have reached your 19th birthday by June 30th, immediately preceding the school year. The bylaws allow for a member school to request a waiver by presenting clear and convincing evidence in the following areas:
- The student has a physical, mental, or emotional disability which has been recognized/certified by a physician or psychiatrist.
- The disability has a direct and significant impact on the student’s athletic ability
- Student has a IEP or a chapter 15 service agreement
- The grant of a waiver would not be likely to render the team more competitive than it would be without the waiver
- The student would likely not, due to physical size, athletic ability, or other characteristics pose an increase risk to opponents.
- Waiver may be granted only for a particular sport and for a particular season. No student may receive a waiver for any sport in any subsequent school year.
This is an important issue for many families with children with disabilities because it may be only through sports that the teenager has opportunities to participate in a social world of their typical peers. My son practiced with a cross country team during high school. Not only was this an opportunity for inclusion, but this provided him with the intense physical activity he needed. He became a very good runner and runs on a daily basis today. I should add he was very proud to receive a number of awards at the final banquet.
I believe the young man should be granted a waiver. I encourage you to sign a petition at www.change.org and spread the word to your friends and family. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject.