from Fay Observer:
N.C. High School Athletic Association commissioner Davis Whitfield issued a statement Wednesday concerning the football future of 19-year-old Brett Bowden, a Hobbton student who has Down syndrome and is now over the age limit for participation.
"I want to be clear that the student-athlete has not been 'kicked off the team,' " Whitfield said. "Brett Bowden could still be a part of the team, lead his team on the field, wear his jersey and be with his teammates, including some of the postgame activities he has done in the past.
"The only thing that he cannot do now that he could do before is dress out in full uniform, since a student must be eligible to be dressed for a contest. He is over the age limit based on the eligibility rules, and this State Board of Education policy is one we are not allowed to set aside."
Bowden, a rising junior, dressed out in full uniform with pads each of the last two seasons and even ran for a game-ending touchdown last year thanks to the cooperation of coaches from rival Midway. After each game, offensive and defensive players from Hobbton line up near an end zone for one final snap that features a handoff to Bowden, who runs the ball in for a touchdown.
NCHSAA schools abide by a rule that says student-athletes who turn 19 on or before Aug. 31 are ineligible to play. As of 8 p.m. Wednesday night, there were nearly 23,000 fans of the Facebook page "Let Brett Bowden Play." Bowden turned 19 in May.
"I understand the rules," said Pat Bowden, Brett's mother. "We understand that. We're not asking for him to get on that field and play. All we wanted was things to stay like they were, exercise and just enjoy the game."
Bowden will still be able to do most of what he did before, only without pads and a helmet.
from WWAY TV3:
VIDEO: Age rule ends special athlete's football career | WWAY NewsChannel 3
from NC Prep Report:
For the past two years, Brett Bowden has suited up for every practice with HobbtonHigh School's varsity football team, and although he doesn't play in the games, he's always on the sideline cheering on his teammates.
His teammates even let him run a touchdown play after every game.
But Brett recently turned 19, and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association says he is no longer eligible to suit up because he is too old. Allowing him to do so, Hobbton High athletics administrators say, is a violation of state rules.
"When I found out, I was heartbroken. I mean, the tears were just flowing," Brett's mother, Pat Bowden, said Monday. "It means a lot for him just to stand there and be a part of them, just like them."
A spokesman for the NCHAA says it undersntads and appreciates the community support for Brett but that there's nothing that can be done. He can continue wearing a team jersey and sitting on the sideline, but he can't suit up or play.
Brett's family and friends have gone online in an effort to bring attention to the story.
Since starting a Facebook page last Friday, more than 1,200 people have rallied behind Brett, expressing their desires that he be allowed to continue suiting up.
"What they are doing to Brett is so unfair," one person wrote on the page. "The presence of Brett (on) the team teaches a big lesson to the community and teammates. LET HIM PLAY."
"The whole NCHSAA should be utterly ashamed of themselves for being so inconsiderate to someone that just wants to be a part of something!" another person wrote.
Pat Bowden says her son still doesn't know that he's no longer allowed to put on the uniform.
Family and friend are hoping that there is still a chance that the NCHSAA will make an exception before the team's first scrimmage next week.
If not, Pat Bowden says, she will have to explain to Brett why he can't wear his uniform.
Brett has a close relationship to the team, his mother says, and the news that he can no longer participate in practices has been difficult for them, too.
"They're his family," Pat Bowden said. "They're his brothers, his best friends."
"It literally breaks my heart," said Charles Chestnutt, Brett's teammate and close friend.
The Hobbton High football team is still reeling from the loss last year of its starting quarterback, Brad Evans, who committed suicide.
Brett has worn Evans' number on his helmet, and other players say that he has helped them heal.
"He's just been my buddy. He's been my inspiration – one of the reasons I keep doing what I do every day, playing football," Chestnutt said.