I would be the first in line to support the need for solid structure in sports and youth sports, specifically rules and expectations all must follow. It is the nature of athletics to be governed by some set of standards or guidelines. It is what keeps competition equitable, fair, and well…competitive.
However, and something I have mentioned in past articles, rarely are things in life so black and white (absolute) that no flexibility is available for special circumstances that may arise. Such is the case highlighted in The Republic’s story, Michigan schools vote to allow sports age limit to be lifted for disabled students.
In Michigan, and likely all states where high school sports are played, there is an age limit applied to how old a high school athlete can be in order to compete at that level. And for obvious reasons, it is important to apply this rule consistently. Fair and equal opportunity behooves us to do so.
But what happens when, because of certain disability, a student athlete exceeds this age limit while still in high school? What if the exceeded age limit does not give any competitive edge over the competition, is minimal in nature, and something that just gives more opportunity to individuals who are at a disadvantage? Should there be some flexibility applied to such a hard and fast rule?
Schools in Michigan say yes as they vote to lift the age limit and allow disabled students to continue to compete. Eric Dompierre, a disabled student with Down syndrome, had exceeded the age limit for high school athletes in his junior year, thus making him ineligible for competition as a senior. His petition to the state was the impetus behind Michigan examining this rule.
According to the Republic article, the new adopted guidelines say:
“— A student's educational progress must have been delayed prior to initial enrollment in the ninth grade solely because of a medically documented disability under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or Michigan's Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act.”
“— At the time of the waiver request, a student must have a defined disability documented to diminish both physical and either intellectual or emotional capabilities, does not create a health or safety risk to participants and does not create a competitive advantage for the team.”
From my perspective, this seems like a fair, equitable, and logical thing to do. Again, as important as rules are to the nature of sports, total absoluteness in application of certain rules (in each and every circumstance) can unnecessarily destroy opportunity for some.
Good job, Michigan. I am certain other states will follow suit.