Michigan High School Athletic Association Tells Kid With Down Syndrome He Is Too Old To Play Basketball.

Eric Dompierre is a 19 year old with Downs Syndrome. As a junior at Ishpeming High School, Dompierre loves basketball and plays on the team. His teammates and coaches love him being on the team and consider him a “perfect teammate.”

Except for one problem – Dompierre is no longer allowed to play on the team.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) has decided to uphold a rule that says those participating in a high school sport must be 18 years of age or younger.

As we noted, Dompierre is 19. Because of the Down Syndrome, Dompierre got a late start in school. Yet here the kid is getting an education and participating in a sport.

Good for him.

We are usually against rules that cut out special provisions for the disabled if there is a great cost or if the provision is overly burdensome. In the case of Dompierre, there is no cost and there is no burden to the school or other schools. This is a win win for everyone. You end up with a kid that is actually part of a team and learns what that means, and a school that can be proud of the fact it is not shoving the kid in a corner for being different and or “disabled.”

Despite 23 other states having rules on the books that allow disabled children like Dompierre to compete in sports at the high school level, the MHSAA said:

After a very thorough review, it was determined that there should be no change to the MHSAA constitution.”

The school district, the school and the parents have submitted a third request for the rule to be changed and brought inline with other states. They cite the Ohio rule as an example which reads:

EXCEPTION 1: If the student is a “child with a disability” as that term is defined at 42 U.S.C. Section 12102 (ADA) and the Regulations promulgated thereunder, and the student’s specific disability has contributed significantly to the student’s inability to meet the requirements of this bylaw, that student may be declared eligible by the Executive Committee if, in the sole discretion of the Executive Committee, the Executive Committee determines that:

a) the student does not pose a safety risk to himself/herself or others; and
b) the student does not enjoy any advantages in terms of physical maturity, mental maturity or athletic maturity over other student-athletes; and
c) the student’s participation does not affect the principles of competitive equity; and
d) there is no evidence of “red-shirting” or other indicia of academic dishonesty.

This seems to us to be within the scope of the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the morals of most human beings. The school isn’t gaining any advantage on the field of play, but they are gaining educational knowledge of the disabled outside of the classroom. How can that possibly be a bad thing?

Yet to the chuckleheads of the MHSSA, it is a bad thing or else they would change the rule.

The MHSSA, like most organizations that govern high school sports, are private groups. They are not part of the “school system.” Yet most of these organizations constantly state how they believe in education and expanding the classroom through sports. They talk of “diversity” and “treating people the same” as part of their commitment to education.

Talk is cheap.

The MHSAA has the chance – as do all high school athletic associations – to do the right thing and offer waivers for the disabled and handicapped to participate past an arbitrary age if there is no advantage gained by the team on which the person participates.

We should encourage them to do so.

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