The Illinois High School Association on Monday announced plans to launch
a state finals pilot program in cross country, bowling, swimming and
diving, and track and field for student-athletes with disabilities – an
initiative that builds on years of accommodations for student-athletes
with disabilities in regular and post-season competitions.|
The pilot program supplements the measures already taken by the IHSA to
accommodate participants with prosthetic limbs, those in wheelchairs,
those with visual or hearing impairments, and those with paralysis who
currently compete in sports like basketball, gymnastics, golf, bowling,
swimming, track and field, and cross country.
“We’ve been actively engaged, listening to stakeholders, advocacy
groups, parents, student-athletes and others to determine how to enhance
opportunities for our student-athletes, all of our student-athletes,”
IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in a statement.
“We are confident that by working together, we will help raise
awareness about the abilities of people with disabilities, and
ultimately more parents, coaches and physical education teachers will
encourage athletics for students with disabilities.”
The IHSA's decision comes less than one week after the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced that student-athletes in wheelchairs will be allowed to compete in eight track events at the state championship level beginning in 2013. Separate championship finals for boys and girls will be held in the 100 meters, 400 meters and 800 meters, plus the shot put. Participants will wear school uniforms and individual awards will be presented, but they will not score points for their school teams.
And less than two weeks ago, member schools of the Michigan High School Association overwhelmingly approved
an amendment to that organization’s constitution that will allow for
waiver of the MHSA's age limit under certain circumstances — a move
spurred by a senior student with Down Syndrome who will be 20 years old
for the 2012-13 academic year at Ishpeming High School because he
started elementary school later due to his disability.
Matt Troha told AthleticBusiness.com
in April that the expanded focus on student-athletes with disabilities
in Illinois is not a response to what was happening in Michigan. Instead, the decision may have been spurred by a lawsuit
filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in federal court in
May, which aimed to make it possible for student-athletes with
disabilities to compete in future IHSA state meets. The suit asked for
an injunction ordering the IHSA "to cease unlawful discrimination
against athletes with disabilities" and to set state-qualifying
standards for those athletes in individual sports.
"We have always promoted opportunities for student-athletes with
disabilities, making accommodations upon request in a number of events,"
Hickman responded, via an IHSA statement announcing the association's filing for declaratory judgment against the Illinois Attorney General.
A spokesperson for Madigan told Chicago's WLS-TV that the pilot program does not affect the lawsuit's status.
The Illinois program approved Monday comes at the recommendation of a
six-member ad-hoc committee comprised of school administrators who
represent different IHSA board divisions. The committee has been
studying the issue since its formation — at the request of a member
school — earlier this year.
According to Hickman, the IHSA will launch an initial two-year pilot
that will begin immediately. The program will enable the IHSA to
continue evaluating statewide interest and participation among
student-athletes with disabilities, while also giving student-athletes
with disabilities additional opportunities to compete in parallel events
at IHSA state finals beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.
“By piloting separate, high-profile events for our student-athletes with
disabilities, we hope to spur more interest statewide,” Hickman added.
“As more and more student-athletes participate in our programs, and as
they start to do so at younger ages, the level of competition naturally
rises, giving way to more meaningful experiences for our athletes.”
The IHSA will partner with advocates and various regional and
community-based agencies that work with student-athletes with
disabilities, and they will study programs that have been implemented by
other states to determine best practices for facilitating such events.