The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is launching an initiative to promote participation in adaptive sports. This initiative follows in the footsteps of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, which this fall became the first collegiate conference to offer NCAA-sanctioned events and varsity-level competition for adaptive sports. According to The Boston Globe, an email containing an outline of the initiative was sent out last week to Massachusetts principals and athletic directors.
The MIAA has a history of accommodating student-athletes with disabilities, but this initiative was created to further encourage participation. It attempts to go beyond accommodations made in the past by creating several new features that promote participation and equality.
Under the initiative, a new category would be created for students with disabilities that would allow them to compete against each other and win individual championships within their categories. The initiative also allows athletes with disabilities to be members of able-bodied teams, though they would not be among the rankings for the team unless they place among other top performers.
The initiative also explains how student-athletes can qualify for championship events when facing able-bodied competition, requiring them to meet standards determined by the results from the national Paralympic-level competitions. During the first few years of the initiative, these standards may be waived or modified based upon the number of disabled athletes at the event.
According to Joe Walsh, president of Adaptive Sports New England, the initiative is an attempt to create equality among able-bodied and disabled athletes. Walsh states, “The standards are intended to allow student-athletes who have disabilities to qualify for state championships if they are at same level of competitiveness as the other athletes qualified for state championships. It’s recognition that they are the same level of athlete.”
The MIAA initiative is facing a few challenges. According to MIAA assistant director Dick Baker, “The biggest roadblock has been having schools recognize these students and getting them involved in their programs.” The MIAA estimates that there are a total of 230,664 students-athletes that competed during the 2014-15 academic year, and Walsh estimates that there may be around 1,000 athletes with disabilities in the state.