When Merrill Staton showed up this week for his volunteer gig as the assistant coach and statistician for his son's second-grade flag football team, he learned that the private, nonprofit Football and Cheerleading Club of Johnson County (Kan.) had placed a condition on his work: He could remain a coach provided he let an adult follow his every move during games. According to The Kansas City Star, this stipulation satisfied the league's football board, which feared a player or 36-year-old Staton himself could be injured if momentum carried a player off the field and into the wheelchair.
"We felt like this was a reasonable approach," Rich Hunter, the club's executive director, told reporter Dawn Bormann. But Staton - who was not included in the original discussion and who did not have the opportunity to provide the board with insight into his condition or the mobility of his heavy-duty wheelchair - does not. So on Monday, he will appeal to the club's football board, even though several people have warned against it. They claim board members don't want Staton coaching at all, The Star reports, and they don't appreciate the public attention he is creating.
Staton suffers from a neurological disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which causes him to fatigue rapidly and spend the majority of his waking hours in a wheelchair. He said he poses no more of a safety obstacle than metal down markers, benches, fences, equipment and other people along the sidelines. "I can probably move faster than some of those guys on their feet," he told Bormann. "I mean, it's a matter of moving a joystick and moving."
Hunter - who admitted he is unaware of any complaints or collisions involving Staton - said he doesn't see the situation as a disability issue. "I think it's being made a disability issue. I think it's a safety issue," he said. "The safety of the kids is our responsibility."
So is teaching respect for others, according to Shannon Walsh, whose son plays on the kindergarten team for which Staton also volunteers. "I kind of feel like it sends a message that if you're disabled you have limited capabilities," she told The Star. "My child has never once said anything about Merrill being in the wheelchair. Nor has he questioned why he was in the wheelchair. He just looks at him and calls him coach. My son isn't putting a boundary on what he can do. I don't think anyone else should put a boundary on what he can do."