When the Ispheming Hematites 2012-13 boys basketball season tips off, a familiar figure might be at the end of the bench: 5-foot-1, 130-pound Eric Dompierre. Until today, May 7, it looked like there was zero chance that would happen, because the Michigan State High School Athletic Association wasn’t going to waive its rule that students who are 19 by Sept. 1 can’t play sports at member schools. This, despite Dompierre being 19 as a high school senior only because he started elementary school at a later age, a result of his Down syndrome.
However, the MHSAA issued a news release, following a spring meeting in the northern Michigan vacation hamlet of Gaylord, that opened up the possibility Dompierre will be allow to play.
Actually, the release made it abundantly clear that while the MHSAA is getting a lot of heat for not allowing Dompierre to play, it’s the member schools who have effectively prevented that from happening, and it’s the member schools who will decide whether that will happen. It also made it clear that it believed Ispheming High (located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) hadn’t followed the correct process to get a waiver in the first place. Dompierre isn’t mentioned by name.
Basically, the release reads like something an organization defensive about its image would put out after being publicly pressured to do something it wasn’t planning to do. (I would have the MHSAA respond to that statement, but the release concludes by saying, in bold type, that the organization won’t offer any further comment.)
From the release:
The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, at its Spring meeting which concluded here today, approved a proposal for a vote by member schools which would change the organization’s Constitution to allow for a waiver of its maximum age limitation under narrowly defined circumstances.To be fair, the MHSAA is a member organization, and if the member schools don’t want to offer a waiver, the MHSAA’s hands are tied. (That was the point of the previous conversation I had with the organization when I first wrote about the Dompierre situation.)
Ballots will be mailed this week. Schools have two weeks to return the ballots, which must be signed by the school principal and superintendent. The MHSAA will post the wording of the proposal on its website not later than May 14.
Currently under MHSAA rules, a student who turns 19 prior to Sept. 1 of a school year is not eligible for interscholastic athletics. Michigan is one of approximately 40 states which use this maximum or have a younger maximum age limit. The MHSAA’s Constitution, which can only be changed by a two-thirds vote of member schools, does not allow the maximum age rule to be waived. Michigan is in the majority of states which do not allow waiver of the rule.
“We recognize that member schools have preferred a bright line for the maximum age rule,” said MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts. “We have prepared for a vote of the membership what we believe is the best alternative – better for Michigan than any proposal we have reviewed from other sources.
“The Representative Council does not advance proposals it does not want the membership to support, and an affirmative vote by schools is being specifically requested on this proposal.”
Based on member school input, the Council previously rejected proposals from the same member school district for a constitutional vote in 2010 and 2011. The school district did not exercise its option to launch its own petition drive of member schools; nor did it avail itself of an athletic eligibility advancement provision in the MHSAA Handbook which allows for over aged students to have four years of high school participation with their age group.
So the MHSAA’s release couldn’t be plainer. The MHSAA is saying, if Eric Dompierre is not allowed to play, don’t blame us. Blame the high schools in Michigan for deciding the rulebook is more important than one student and one school that isn’t seeking a competitive advantage, that just wants to revel in the joy of an inspirational figure who generally comes in when the outcome of a game is no longer in doubt.