Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Dad Fights to Keep Son with Down Syndrome Playing Ball
More than 6,700 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking high school officials in Michigan to allow a 19-year-old high school student with Down syndrome to play basketball and football during his senior year. Dean Dompierre, whose son, Eric, will be 20 for the 2012-13 academic year at Ishpeming High School — the boy started elementary school later due to his disability — began the campaign after the Michigan High School Athletic Association disqualified Eric for next year, citing a handbook rule that states students are not allowed to participate in any school sports if they are older than 19. |
Dompierre and the Ishpeming School District have pitched multiple rule-revision proposals to the state association beginning in 2010 — including, according to the MHSAA, ones that would allow for a case-by-case evaluation of requests by student-athletes with Down syndrome and for student-athletes with any kind of disability. The Change.org petition states that 23 other states currently allow waivers extending the maximum-age requirements for student-athletes with disabilities. According to UpperMichigansSource.com, MSHAA officials responded to the proposals by saying in part, "After a very thorough review, it was determined that there should be no change to the MHSAA constitution."
Tom Rashid, associate director of the MHSAA, told AthleticBusiness.com on Wednesday morning that the organization spoke with between 500 and 600 athletic directors at meetings held around the state last September and October. "Their hearts go out to the kid, and they certainly want to help him, but if you did it for just one disability, why would you not allow a waiver for other disabilities?" Rashid says, citing autism as an example. "To measure what factors influence an unfair competitive advantage because of age — the height of a kid, the weight of kid, physical maturity — how do you successfully make those measurements and not sit in judgment? You just can't. The courts would define delineating those factors as an undue burden. … The consistent universal application of the age rule is really the smartest thing to do. We feel we have vetted it and discussed it widely."
Eric Dompierre has been successful on the football field and the basketball court, kicking extra points for the Hematites and recently earning UpperMichigansSource.com's "Play of the Week" honors for a "nothing but net" shot he made in the district finals. "Eric is who he is today because of sports," his father said in a statement. "He's never let the fact that he has a handicap be the handicap. He's as responsible and as physically fit as he is because he’s been able to participate in athletics. I would hate to see that taken away from him. Eric has also been an inspiration to our entire community. I watch him play when he’s on the field or on the court, but I also spend a lot of time watching the crowd because it's heartwarming to see the unconditional support that they give him. ... Even our high school rivals support Eric. When he’s in the game and makes a basket or kicks an extra point, the crowd just goes wild, and everyone leaves the gym understanding what high school sports is really all about.”
As of Wednesday morning, Dompierre's petition had acquired nearly 7,000 of the 10,000 signatures Change.org states are required, including those from as far away as New Hampshire, Texas and even Australia. If those 10,000 names are obtained, it's unlikely the MHSAA will be swayed. "Change.org isn't a member of the MHSAA," Rashid says. "We are governed by our membership. We're an association of schools, and we listen to our schools. I know the difficulty of this topic. We're not heartless here. That's why we spent so much time discussing it — to see if there was a way to do it."