Remember the story that was going around Facebook about a young athlete with special needs whose mom bought him a varsity letter jacket and whose school made him stop wearing it? Amanda had a chat with Charlie Zegers, who writes about sports and also about parenting kids on the autism spectrum, on whether buying a kid a letter to honor participation on a non-varsity team is something parents ought to be doing, however well-meaning and understandable such an effort may be.
Tough situation – and one that has come up before in other districts and jurisdictions.
On the one hand, a hard-and-fast age limit seems reasonable when talking about eligibility for high school athletics. But with students on the spectrum spending extra time at secondary schools, a waiver of that limit seems like a reasonable accommodation, doesn’t it?
In a test of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the parents of a New Jersey high school placekicker with autism who kicked a game-winning field goal have filed a federal civil rights suit to gain their son an extra year of eligibility to play football. Anthony Starego’s game-winning kick in the final seconds of a game last October was immortalized in a video, Kick of Hope, produced by ESPN.
The suit, filed by Raymond and Raylene Starego on behalf of their son Anthony, names the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) for denying Anthony’s request to play one more year at age 19. Also named as defendants were Brick Township High School and the New Jersey Department of Education.
Starego will not attend college, but rather continue studying at Brick Township High School until age 21 as provided under the federal IDEA Act. The NJSIAA in March denied his request for an extra year of eligibility, claiming Starego would bring “college-level skills” onto the field that would give Brick High School “an advantage against other teams.”
Special Needs kids often take longer to get through high school than others. And that can mean that, by the time they’re seniors, they’re classified as too old to participate in certain activities. But a dedicated dad in Michigan is looking to change that.
It happened to my daughter, who didn’t get to compete on the varsity bowling team her senior year because she’d aged out. And it’s scheduled to happen to Eric Dompierre, a 19-year-old junior with Down syndrome who competes in football and basketball for his Michigan high school. But although I just grumbled about it and wrote ticked-off blog posts, Eric’s dad is setting out to change the rules, putting up a petition on Change.org that’s gathered more than 73,000 signatures. Read Dean Dompierre’s explanation of the situation, and if you think the current rules are unfair — and indeed, strike at the heart of the sort of inclusion we long to see for our kids — add your name to the petition.